If you’re interested in the law but aren’t ready to become a lawyer (at least for now), then you may be interested in becoming a paralegal. You can spend your entire career as a paralegal. Alternatively, you can treat being a paralegal as a step on the path to becoming a lawyer.
Here is a quick guide to the qualifications you need to become a paralegal.
Technically, academic qualifications are not mandatory to become a paralegal. Some people can qualify purely through experience. You can, however, vastly speed up the process of becoming a paralegal through obtaining academic qualifications.
For young adults such as school-leavers, one way to get both experience and qualifications would be to do an apprenticeship. You would typically need a minimum of 3 A levels for these. Paralegal apprentices typically gain a Level 3 certificate in paralegal practice. This is sufficient to be considered for entry-level jobs (particularly with experience).
At the other end of the scale, some paralegals have a law degree. This means that, in principle, they could choose to qualify as lawyers. There are, however, many reasons they may choose not to. For example, they may not be ready for such a significant commitment in terms of both workload and cost.
One very common route to becoming a paralegal is to get a degree in a non-legal subject and then do postgraduate training to become a paralegal. Graduates would typically do a more advanced qualification than school leavers, for example, the Level 7 diploma in paralegal practice.
Academic qualifications will certainly help you to progress. If, however, you really want to succeed as a paralegal, you will need a variety of other skills as well. At a minimum, you should be comfortable using technology. Paralegals are not “senior secretaries” but a lot of the work paralegals do is essentially administrative in nature. Decent office skills are therefore a must.
Paralegals also need top-notch organization skills. A lot of legal work needs to be done quickly but still thoroughly and accurately. In fact, sometimes you will need to be able to meet deadlines to be able to proceed with your case. For example, many laws have statutes of limitation, essentially time limits after which cases are automatically disqualified regardless of their overall merit.
This means that all successful paralegals need a “can do” attitude. In other words, any time you hit a hurdle, you need to find a way to clear it. Of course, you will have someone you can turn to if you really need help. In general, however, you will be expected to do everything you can to solve the problem yourself first.
Last but definitely not least, being a paralegal is very much a people-orientated job. This has two implications. Firstly, you need excellent communication skills both written and verbal. In many cases, persuasiveness can help a lot. Secondly, you need to be able to work with all kinds of people from all walks of life.
No matter what job you’re going for, it usually helps to have some kind of related experience. In the context of becoming a paralegal, related experience does not necessarily mean that you need a legal background. It means having some kind of experience that shows that you have what it takes to succeed as a paralegal.
If you’ve already been successful in a previous job, then the chances are that you can demonstrate skills you can transfer. If you’ve only been in education, think about your extracurricular activities and any voluntary work that you’ve done. In either case, it’s definitely advisable to read up on the legal profession so can demonstrate some industry knowledge.
Author Nannette Kendrick is the Head of New Business and Marketing at Lovedays Solicitors who specialise in a spectrum of legal services throughout England and Wales.