From disappointing A-level grades to my first role
At Simply Law we recently spoke to Millie Swaby-Pritchard, a paralegal who kindly shared what it has taken to become a paralegal. Millie shares her path to a legal career and careers advice for aspiring legal professionals.
I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary in my first paralegal role, but the journey getting here has taken much longer. Even though I had known throughout school that I wanted to enter the legal industry, my journey really began when I decided to study law with the Open University.
My A-levels were quite an unsteady time in my life and it unfortunately meant I didn’t get the grades I wanted, or needed, to be accepted to study law at a standard university. It made me question how I would be able to continue my journey into the legal industry.
Fortunately, I discovered the Open University which provided the ability to study law wherever I liked without any entry grade requirements. It was a win-win for me with my interest in travelling and also wanting to keep progressing my career. I studied this degree for 4 years without much consideration of the legal industry and how I would fit into it.
However, the end of my degree triggered a real learning curve when I had to research the routes from graduate to solicitor in an attempt to figure out what to do next. It was at this point I developed an understanding of what a paralegal was and the place they held in the sector.
This was also when I realised that people at my level of study were already applying for training contracts or vacation schemes, and the luckier of them were already reserved into the relevant places. Looking back, it was certainly a time of feeling quite unsure and experiencing an element of imposter syndrome about the industry.
Studying the LPC
When I realised my best option was to study the LPC, I researched providers and chose the University of Law. This was mostly based on the location of the campus and that they provided open book assessments which I knew I would be well suited to.
During the LPC my imposter syndrome increased; I met people who had training contracts, people who already worked as paralegals and people who were very clued up on the industry.
It was quite overwhelming at times, but it also gave me insight into the ways I could start my career and I met a lot of great people along the way. This also encouraged me to take advantage of any extracurricular activities I could, such as being a charity representative.
Training contracts vs paralegal experience
Even though a lot of my peers had done so, I realised that I didn’t feel ready to apply for training positions as ULaw came to an end. It wasn’t that I didn’t know if I wanted a training contract, but I didn’t want one at this time.
I wanted experience with communicating with clients and learning about how law firms really worked, and I knew I had to establish confidence in myself and remove any imposter feelings towards the career I had always wanted.
Upon this realisation, I started looking for paralegal opportunities to gain the experience I needed. It was the beginning of the pandemic and opportunities were difficult to come by.
This is when I realised I had to take steps to make myself stand out. I began by setting up my LinkedIn account and adding all the things I could which made me different. I also took any opportunities I could online, such as virtual work experience.
Aside to this, my CV needed serious work. I had never actually written a CV prior to this and so I needed a lot of help. Apart from researching online, I took advantage of the careers department at ULaw which offered CV reviews. I eventually got my CV up to scratch and, along with my LinkedIn profile, this actually led to me being scouted for the job I am still in today.
A year in my first professional legal role
Now a year into my first role, I have gained everything I knew I needed before applying for training contracts. My role involves a lot of client communication and a considerable amount of responsibility and resilience, and this has given me the confidence in my legal skills I needed.
My journey definitely isn’t unique, but so many of my peers entered paralegal roles for different reasons and at different points in their career.
Some wanted the role for a few months whilst they obtained a training contract or waited for one to start, others to gain experience and get a measure of the industry and some even used the role as a foot in the door to firm’s where they wanted training contracts.
However, for all of them I can attest to the fact the role has been useful in gaining work experience, connections and perfecting legal skills.
For anyone looking to be a paralegal your first step should be to establish a strong LinkedIn account which shows all of your accomplishments and backs up your CV – make sure to link your LinkedIn at the top of your CV too!
But overall my key advice would be to research all of the options you can, and be open to listening about anything available.
This should help you find a route or job which suits you and your own journey perfectly.