The typical stereotype of a paralegal can conjure some unfortunate, negative imagery – a solely administrative role, acting as a yes-man to junior lawyers with little-to-no hopes of future career progression. As the legal sector has evolved, so have the responsibilities of a typical Paralegal. Many now complete work that is at least on a level with trainee solicitors, if not far greater, with the opportunity to work with clients directly and take on more personal responsibility. Despite such changes, traditional and historically-outdated myths have still persisted, primarily due to the views of more ‘traditional’ legal professionals and a lack of education or promotion of the role at university.
The Paralegal profession deserves better (and is better) than such misconceptions. The role is worthy of proper recognition in its own right, rather than continuous comparisons to other career routes or roles in the profession. To try and break such stereotypes, I collaborated with over 20 Paralegals from a vast variety of backgrounds to sort the fact from the fiction about what a Paralegal really is in today’s legal industry.
What made you want to become a Paralegal?
The Paralegal role is appealing for a wide variety of reasons. It is one of the few legal roles that is flexible enough to allow for part-time study of a legal course, such as the LPC or GDL, as well as often being open to anyone regardless of their degree or previous experience.
“We all know how much of a long road it is to qualify and I didn’t want to take a year out before the LPC, nor did I want to graduate and go back to my mundane waitressing job. It was right before graduation that I decided to apply for a paralegal position to fund my masters, which I then switched for the part-time LPC. I would recommend becoming a paralegal or at least having a few months of paralegalling experience before applying for TCs, to anyone. I receive a lot of “wow how on earth do you do it all?!” comments but it’s definitely doable!” – Abi Simpson
“Following graduation, I did not think twice before I applied for paralegal positions as I wanted to continue working in the legal field. I was only picky about specifics of my future job – I was really keen on in-house, preferably with international companies and in the tech industry. Funnily enough, it took me merely two weeks to receive an offer that ticked off all the above boxes.” – Dominika Westfal
“I wanted to pursue an alternative route by building my experience as a paralegal to then use that to apply for opportunities later on. I also wanted to put the skills I had learnt from the LPC into practice, so paralegalling was a great way of doing this.” – Zainab Hassan
“Firstly, I felt that this was one of the useful ways I would be able to develop a variety of legal transferable skills required for a career in Law. Secondly, I foresaw that the nature of the role would help prepare me for the type of challenges I will be expected to handle in future or that I may encounter as a trainee lawyer. Acquiring paralegal experience has allowed me to make mistakes earlier on and test out the type of work or duties I may have to undertake whilst on the VS and/or TC. I feel that this experience could be beneficial for people who have a neuro-diverse condition such as myself, as it allows one to build confidence and improve on where the condition lacks.” – Sarah Bamidele
What do you think is the best perk about working as a Paralegal, either in your current role or for how it may impact your future career trajectory?
Given the ability to work in a wide variety of legal sectors, Paralegal roles grant an immense insight into the industry. This is vital for allowing individuals to discover their preferred practice areas, as well as develop a broad, adaptable skillset to use throughout their career.
“The experience! I have learnt so much and it has more than prepared me for life as a trainee. I have also made many contacts along the way from a number of different law firms who have helped me in so many different ways.” – Ellie Llyod
“It’s the best way to actually test if being a solicitor is actually for you. It gives a chance to verify if you are okay with the pace of work, whether commonly cited ‘intellectual-stimulation’ is what you genuinely crave or is it too much at times, what areas of the law interest you, the list goes on forever. Being a paralegal you get to develop pretty much the same skills that firms require from its trainees, which puts you in great stead when that time actually comes. It equally helps with the application process itself too. I can’t recommend it enough.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“I am not limited to one area – I can work on employment, commercial contracts, corporate finance, intellectual property on the same day. Additionally, working for a company that has a significant international footprint, I get to experience the realities of working with colleagues and professionals from overseas on issues which cross different jurisdictions.” – Dominika Westfal
“Definitely learning on the job. Studying and working is a lot for anyone to handle, but it’s great to be able to put knowledge into practice and apply what you’ve learnt for your exams and assessments! I’d like to think my job has put me in good stead for when it comes to applying for TCs as hopefully, they would see that I know the ropes and would hit the ground running. It shows a lot about your dedication to the profession and your future career.” – Abi Simpson
“You are forced to learn and constantly be challenged. This is an invaluable skill that will help my future pursuits to becoming qualified. You experience a variety of legal practice areas as well.” – Sarah Bamidele
“You basically get the experience of a trainee! So, if you do then start a Training Contract, you are able to continue working hard and excel at your work.” – Zainab Hassan
What are the biggest misconceptions about working as a Paralegal?
“I am often met with two polar-opposite misconceptions. On the one hand, lay people usually assume that I am a qualified lawyer already which results in long explanations as to why it is not really the case. On the other hand, however, some people think that my role is purely administrative. Of course, there are administrative tasks that I am handling on a day to day basis, but I also get involved in a lot of legal projects.” – Dominika Westfal
“That it’s only for people who failed to get a TC. This might be partially true for some, but considering the frantic competition in the legal market, it really helps to approach this process not with self-hate and doubt (which I did for a while), but rather by thoroughly thinking through your strengths and goals to plan ahead.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“One misconception is that you don’t get given the good work. I think that you need to be proactive and make the associates you are working for aware of what you would like more involvement with. Another misconception is that you aren’t going to progress with the firm you work for but this is all down to you and how you fit with the firm.” – Ellie Lloyd
“That a paralegal is another name for a legal PA or the photocopier of the firm. Whilst there are some admin aspects to the role, this is not always the case! In smaller firms, you’re given more responsibilities and opportunities to undertake a variety of tasks which would usually be reserved for trainees and associates in larger firms. In my previous paralegal role, I was nominated to be an in-house company secretary and in charge of shareholders agreements! Moreover, I cannot exaggerate it enough that securing a paralegal role is not a cop-out to qualifying! It’s actually incredibly useful and can discount you up to 6 months off of your TC (upon application and submission of the relevant documents to the SRA) known as ‘time to count’ or ‘period of recognised training’.” – Abi Simpson
“Some people state that paralegals are for people that are ‘yes men’, only capable of getting the work done and falling short on the other qualities that makes a great lawyer. I totally disagree as I feel I am a creative thinker and a problem solver. I have come to appreciate that I will probably be working three times as hard to break into the legal profession at a global city firm given my background, disability and university grade. This is why I have had no choice but to opt into the paralegal route, to acquire more legal knowledge and experience that will enhance my skills and allow me to understand commercial law better, as I never knew what it involved until I started working as a paralegal at a US Law firm and attending commercial law-related events.” – Sarah Bamidele
What’s the best way to try and secure Paralegal opportunities?
Much is made of the traditional solicitor or barrister routes to qualification at university. Paralegals, however, are now starting to draw some more attention for the flexibility and benefits the role can bring – especially when it comes to future career progression.
“Try and get some work experience and then make several applications for paralegal roles. Law firms will see something in you if you are passionate about the work! Legal recruitment agencies are really helpful too.” – Zainab Hassan
“Begin looking in the run-up to summer and Christmas when individuals may be leaving their post to embark upon their TC or LPC.” – Abi Simpson
“It is paramount that paralegals have an understanding of the key issues, even if they lack direct experience. If you can talk about it and show that you are capable to learn quickly you could be hired despite a lack of direct experience. I was able to land my first paralegal job having shown a keen interest in law, demonstrable determination and how I would be committed as well as add value to the firm and this resulted in being hired without having the LPC or previous paralegal experience.” – Sarah Bamidele
“Try to connect with people directly through LinkedIn. This is much more efficient than trying some general number/email networking and potentially never hearing back.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“Check out F-LEX to gain some work experience, attend networking events and apply to as many paralegal roles as possible. I always wanted to start in a Corporate role, but I still applied for roles in personal injury, catastrophic injury and commercial insurance as well.” – Ellie Lloyd
How do you think the role of Paralegals may change in the future?
Much has been made of how the Paralegal role will function in the future of the legal industry. With the advent of innovative Legal Tech solutions, as well as shifting qualification routes under the SQE, it seems the role is now open to more opportunities and responsibilities than ever before.
“A lot of people believe that the role of the paralegal will be overtaken by the likes of AI and machine learning. Whilst that sector is growing, I think that the paralegal is paramount to supporting fee earners with their workload. It goes without saying that AI and machine learning inevitably poses accountability concerns and a lack of humanity in the workplace. However, I think many people will be turning to (and a large number already have) this alternative route to qualification. Taking time out as a paralegal before embarking on your TC is not a diversion from the goal, it’s simply the scenic route! We are led to believe that the route is ultimately LLB>LPC>TC consecutively and anything that goes against the grain is not to be given a thought. I disagree. What employer is going to turn down a paralegal who needs little training and can demonstrate dedication in their commitment to the profession?” – Abi Simpson
“It is definitely going to be impacted by the SQE and the wider reform of the qualification process. How exactly? I’m not so sure. I think no-one knows yet, but we are likely to see many more people going into paralegalling once the stigma of the ‘TC-fall outs’ slowly dies out. – Aleksandra Owczarska
“With the SRA making changes to the routes of qualifying, I think there will be room for more paralegals to qualify through the equivalent means of qualifying. The law industry is extremely competitive and as there are more applicants than roles available, this may continue in the future. Whether this actually deters applicants or not is an interesting thing to watch out for.” – Zainab Hassan
“The introduction of the SQE will surely have a significant impact on how paralegals are perceived. Since “the period of recognised training” totaling 2 years will open the doors to qualification, many paralegals will be able to qualify without completing training contracts. I could write a whole essay on this issue, but for now, I will just say that indeed big changes are coming!” – Dominika Westfal
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring solicitors, particularly those considering applying for Paralegal opportunities?
“Give it a go and consider paralegalling on an equal footing with any other job application. It’ll be an important step on your way through your career and opens many doors.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“Do it! Being a paralegal straight after university was the best thing I did for my development. I would say make sure you really take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” – Ellie Lloyd
“Spending time as a paralegal most definitely trumps numerous work experience stints. Vacation schemes are good for making yourself known to big firms, however paralegal experience is invaluable and is always something you can pull out of the bag during application questions and interviews to demonstrate your practical knowledge and understanding of the workplace.” – Abi Simpson
“There are plenty of great, professional-looking resume templates on Etsy which you can buy just for a few pounds. I found that I received plenty of responses from recruiters once I invested in a nice looking CV – many of them admitted that my applications stood out for that reason.” – Dominika Westfal
“To go for it! They need you just as much as you want the job. Be yourself and genuinely consider the questions in the application and interview process. Imagine the job/life you want and work your hardest to get it. Most of all, don’t give up and be sure to ask for help – there is plenty around.” – Zainab Hassan
“Be proactive, sociable and make the most of every opportunity you can. Put yourself forward for as much as possible and try and mimic the professional qualities of your supervisors and the lawyers around you. And most importantly, don’t give up – keep applying for paralegal jobs, training contracts, vac schemes and constantly look for areas to develop, progress. Don’t let rejection or negative feedback set you back but use it as a springboard to develop. Ignore anything that seems personal and twist it into something you can use for self progression.” – Anonymous
“Absolutely apply for that paralegal job. You will gain invaluable experience from solicitors and lawyers at the tops of their friends and learn practical skills that cannot be taught in a classroom, and enjoy a challenging, fast paced but compassionate role. The experience, skills and networking gained will make all the difference when it comes to securing a training contract (or equivalent) in the future.” – Anonymous
This article would not have been possible without the collaboration of a great many people. Their insight and commentary on the Paralegal role was truly eye-opening and I hope it inspires aspiring lawyers to appreciate the role for what it is – an inimitable opportunity to develop your skills and garner real experience for your career. At the end of the day, all members of a firm have to collaborate in order to work towards the main goal of any legal service provider – serving clients’ needs. It’s time outdated misconceptions made way for a true appreciation of how important the work Paralegals undertake truly is.
I’d like to thank the follow people for their contribution to this article:
- Jagpal Pahal – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jagpalpahal/
- Aleksandra Owczarska – https://www.linkedin.com/in/aleksandra-owczarska-77070291/
- Zainab Hassan – @zaiblogs_
- Abi Simpson – @femmelegale
- Ellie Lloyd – https://www.linkedin.com/in/ellielloyd96/
- Sarah Bamidele – https://www.linkedin.com/in/sbamidele/
- Dominika Westfal – @nika.west
- The anonymous contributors to my survey
- ….and anyone else I may have forgotten to mention!