By Amanda Hamilton, CEO, National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP)
Working as a paralegal is a career option that many are choosing these days, rather than being a default career pathway if you cannot find a training contract to qualify as a solicitor. So the question is, what kind of a person do you need to be to enter this profession and what should you be aware of in respect of the training and how to qualify?
Firstly it’s important to ask yourself whether you have an interest in law, as well as a vocation in wanting to help people, because, if not, then you should not be even thinking about entering the legal services sector as a paralegal.
You need to have an eye for detail because, if a client comes to see you with a problem, you need to be sympathetic but at the same time, be able to pin-point the legal principle involved. This can sometimes be very difficult because clients are naturally emotionally involved in what is happening to them. To ascertain the legal problem is half the battle and this requires asking astute relevant questions.
Studying law requires dedication and application at whatever level, whether it is to qualify as a paralegal or a solicitor. However, it is less time consuming and less costly to qualify through the paralegal route.
There are a few tips to look out for when you are considering studying to become a paralegal:
Ensure that any paralegal course you find is expressed to be specifically ‘paralegal’. If the course is described to be a ‘paralegal course’ in the description, but the name of the course does not have the term ‘paralegal’ in the title, then the likelihood is that it has probably not been developed specifically for paralegals.
Next you should ascertain whether the course is accredited by an official qualification regulator, such as the Office of Qualifications and Examinations (Ofqual). This is the government body that accredits national qualifications in England and has statutory powers under various Acts of Parliament. Because of the strength of regulation behind the qualifications that they recognise, and the reputation of these regulators, qualifications which hold an Ofqual brand are accepted worldwide. Once you establish this, then you know that an awarding organisation that has gained recognition by Ofqual is offering qualifications which are of a very high standard and are ‘fit for purpose’. You also know that the people who hold an Ofqual certificate have all attained the same level of skills, knowledge and understanding for the same qualification. In other words; they can be relied upon.
Watch out for training providers that claim to be ‘approved’ by another body. Any organisation can say that they ‘approve’ a course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the courses are robust or fit for purpose.
There are various routes to qualification as a paralegal. If you’re already undertaking a law degree or have completed one, then you may consider enrolling for the professional paralegal qualification (NALP’s Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice). This is the equivalent for paralegals that the Legal Practice Course is for solicitors.
If you don’t have a law degree, all is not lost because you can consider various other pathways to becoming qualified. For example, you can go for an entry level qualification such as the Level 3 paralegal practice qualifications (offered through NALP Centres). If it has been a while since you have studied, or if you have never studied law before, it is a great point at which to start.
There are progressions from the Level 3 Award to Certificate and then the Diploma. Starting off in this way will give you confidence since the Award is only 2 units of study, the Certificate is another 2 units and finally the Diploma is yet another 2 units. In this way you build up your knowledge of law slowly, while gaining an understanding of concepts of law and how to complete scenario-based assignments which form the basis of how to manage and advise clients in reality.
All-in-all, a career as a paralegal can be as rewarding as that of a solicitor, but make sure you get the right training and have the right motivation first.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its training arm, NALP Training, trading as National Paralegal College, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.