Paralegals work in the legal sector, supporting qualified solicitors, barristers and other chartered legal professionals.
What is a paralegal?
As a paralegal, you will work alongside qualified law professionals to support the daily running of legal cases and agencies. Your work could cover a range of responsibilities, but the focus is providing additional support to fully qualified members of the law profession.
You could work in a range of settings. These could range from being an in-house paralegal in law firms, local government, as well as charities and not for profit organisations. Your work could cover specific areas of law such as being a crime paralegal through to insurance and business law.
Your responsibilities will vary depending on the setting you work in, and what kind of law professional you’re working with. Common responsibilities in paralegal roles include:
- Attending events for meeting new clients, representing the law firm.
- Creating agendas for meetings and distributing these prior to the meetings taking place.
- Keeping logs of cases, updating them as trials progress and distributing these amongst a wider team.
- Offering additional advice and support to legal professionals, such as updates in law or new approaches to cases.
- Office administrative tasks, such as responding to emails from clients.
- Organising files, such as case files, client agreements and internal files, ensuring they remain secure under general data protection regulations (GDPR).
- Proofreading and editing papers written by qualified legal professionals.
- Supporting solicitors with case research.
- Taking minutes in meetings and distributing these amongst relevant professionals.
- Writing initial drafts of key documents, such as proposals, summons and contracts to be reviewed and amended by a qualified professional.
A paralegal salary will vary depending on your location and your level of expertise. Usually, the longer you have worked in a role and the closer to London you are, the higher you can expect to earn. Companies in other major cities are also more likely to pay a higher rate than those in smaller towns.
The training you take on in your role will vary depending on the amount of experience you bring to it.
The average paralegal salary is around £23,000 per year. This will be lower for non graduate roles, and likely higher for graduate positions. Non graduate positions may earn closer to the £14,000 - £22,000 mark, while graduates are likely to earn closer to £25,000.
If you take a paralegal apprenticeship, you’ll earn £4.81 per hour for the first year, provided you’re over 19. In the following years, you’ll earn the national minimum age for your age.
It’s also worth noting that graduates may have more opportunity to apply for more advanced roles which require a degree to progress.
There are several routes to working as a paralegal or legal assistant. While you do not need a degree to practise, this can work in your favour if you’re applying for competitive positions. A degree that shows an ability to analyse information and create balanced arguments would be a good start.
Examples of degrees that would align you well with paralegal work include:
You’ll usually need 2-3 A Levels and 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) to apply for a degree. Law degrees are particularly competitive, and will require 3 A Levels.
Alternatively, you could study at college to gain the skills you’ll need as a paralegal. You could take level 2 or 3 courses that cover paralegal work or law in practice. You’ll usually need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including English and Maths in order to apply. There are also options to study remotely or online with The National Institute of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), The Institute of Paralegals (IOP) or The National Paralegal College (NPC).
You could also take an apprenticeship route to paralegal work. Paralegal apprenticeships combine time working within a legal firm or equivalent, as well as academic study. This will usually be completed at level 3, and you’ll need 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including English and Maths to apply.
Applications to paralegal courses and entry level jobs are competitive. With this in mind it’s worth seeking out prior work experience to enhance your application.
Some firms may allow you to work your way up through the company as a paralegal trainee. Employers offering trainee paralegal jobs will usually expect you to complete some form of qualification while working.
Training and development
The training you take on in your role will vary depending on the amount of experience you bring to it. An individual fresh out of a law degree or an accredited paralegal course, for example, will need less on the job training than someone working their way up through a company.
That being said, you’ll need to keep up to date with continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your role. There are various governing bodies for paralegals that offer online training, seminars and conferences that will help you advance and upskill within your role, such as NALP, the IOP and NPC. Some offer set routes through CPD, if you’re looking for a set approach, while others offer membership that gives access to various online and in person materials. If you choose to become a member of the Institute of Paralegals, you’ll need to keep up regular CPD to retain your status.
Your skills as a paralegal combine a good understanding of the legal profession you work within and excellent organisation skills. These include:
- A good grasp of the workings of courtrooms and cases, especially key language used in the legal area you work in.
- A good understanding of the areas of law you work within, in order to advise and support effectively.
- A good understanding of the various components that make up a law firm, including colleagues and internal processes, in order to support work across various cases effectively.
- Confidence in using legal computer software and an ability to pick up new IT skills quickly.
- Excellent organisational skills - you’ll provide the administrative backbone to cases working efficiently, so it’s key that you’re able to stay organised.
- Excellent time keeping skills - you may be asked to carry out tasks quickly and efficiently in order for a case to continue progressing.
- Excellent verbal communication skills - you’ll work in close contact with clients and colleagues and need to be able to present yourself professionally.
- Excellent written communication skills - you’ll be expected to write reports and documentation to be used by clients, colleagues and stakeholders.
- Good administrative skills, as this will take up a great deal of your working hours.
Applications to paralegal courses and entry level jobs are competitive. With this in mind it’s worth seeking out prior work experience to enhance your application. You can reach out to local law firms, government agencies and charities to see if they have any paralegal workers on staff, and ask to shadow them. It’s still worth asking to shadow if there aren’t any employed paralegals, as you’ll learn a great deal from shadowing qualified individuals too.
You could also carry out law based work in a voluntary capacity for advice organisations, such as Citizens Advice. You’re likely to answer to a more qualified professional, and this will give you great experience of advising others.
Working as a paralegal is a profession in and of itself. You could start as a graduate entry paralegal and work your way up to management positions.
As a paralegal, you will work alongside qualified law professionals to support the daily running of legal cases and agencies.
Many law professionals, however, use time working as a paralegal as a stepping stone towards qualified law work. You could build up your experience and eventually apply to courses that would qualify you as a solicitor or barrister, where your paralegal work would make up an excellent part of your application.