The term “paralegal” originated in the USA. Since then, it’s been widely adopted in many countries, including the UK. It’s also widely misunderstood by the general public and, crucially, by people considering their future careers.
With that in mind, Nannette Kendrick, Head of New Business and Marketing at Lovedays Solicitors, provides her insight into five common misconceptions about paralegals and what the truth really is.
1) Being a paralegal is an “in-between” job
This isn’t entirely a myth. Some people do start as legal secretaries, work their way up to being paralegals and go on to qualify as lawyers. On the whole, however, these people tend to be in the minority, at least in the UK. In the UK, it’s far more common for people to choose to become a paralegal as a specific profession.
2) Becoming a paralegal is easy
Again, this isn’t entirely a myth. It’s more a question of your basis of comparison. Becoming a paralegal is certainly easier than becoming a lawyer. It’s also quicker and more affordable. On the other hand, becoming a paralegal certainly takes a fairly high level of commitment.
Realistically, even entry-level roles require some level of education and experience. As you go through the ranks, the standards will become even higher. What’s more, the law is in a constant process of development. This means that paralegals need to continue their professional development for as long as they stay in work.
3) Paralegals are generalists
Paralegals tend to follow a similar career trajectory to most other professionals. They start out as generalists then move into a specialization. This is not mandatory. Paralegals can stay as generalists if they wish. Some may find this suits their lifestyle preferences.
It is, however, fair to say that generalists, almost by definition, typically have limited depth of knowledge. As a result, they tend to be best suited to entry-level roles. More senior roles tend to require more in-depth knowledge and potentially the ability to train new entrants. As such, they tend to be better suited to specialists.
4) Paralegals are very limited in what they can do
This is another misconception that is grounded in some truth. Lawyers can perform “reserved legal activities” whereas paralegals cannot. The number of reserved legal activities is, however, already fairly small considering the overall scope of the law. What’s more, it’s shrinking all the time and likely to continue to do so for practical reasons.
The UK’s court system was notoriously slow even before COVID19 struck. Courts are still working under COVID19 restrictions. In fact, it’s currently anyone’s guess when those will be removed completely. This means that, at best, the backlog is unlikely to improve any time soon. At worst it could become even more significant.
It is therefore highly likely that the scope of paralegals will be extended to help deal with this. Empowering paralegals further could also go a long way towards getting the wheels of justice to turn rather more quickly on an ongoing basis.
One distinct possibility is that the government will regulate paralegals in the same way as lawyers (and other professions). An obvious way to do this would be to make registration on the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) mandatory instead of voluntary. Registered paralegals could then relieve overworked lawyers of some of their workload.
5) Paralegals have little scope for progression
This is totally untrue. There is plenty of scope for progression within the paralegal profession. What’s more, being a paralegal can be an excellent foundation for moving into other professions if you wish. The most obvious example of this is becoming a lawyer. There are, however, plenty of others. This is because the education and skills you develop as a paralegal are often highly in demand in other sectors.
AuthorLovedays Solicitors, based in Matlock are specialists in personal and business legal services. Their team of solicitors can provide support and guidance through a range of family law matters including divorce, finances, domestic abuse and more. – Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash