When one thinks of a legal professional, they tend to think of a person in court arguing a case or a person objecting to the opposition. However, a lot goes on behind the scenes for a person’s law case involving many people who do not hold such powers. This is what makes a paralegal’s role so vital, leading to many calling them the unsung heroes of the legal sector.

What is a Paralegal?

Quite simply, a paralegal is a legally trained professional that offers legal assistance and guidance. However, they cannot offer all the assistance a legal solicitor can, including reserved activities. These reserved activities, that a paralegal cannot do, includes conduct litigation, conveyance, or signing a probate. This is what solicitors will generally do.

Nevertheless, solicitors and paralegals can both help you defend yourself against a court action, assist in divorce matters, assist in legal processes, and fill out legal paperwork. More specifically, the sort of tasks a paralegal may be faced with can be more direct. Including assisting in housing, wills, matrimonial or criminal matters alongside helping if you need to take someone to court.

A ‘Paralegal’ is often referred to as a ‘Legal Assistant’ with paralegal having a wide meaning. But under the umbrella definition of this term is a ‘Chartered Legal Executive’ or ‘NALP Licensed Paralegal’ which is the title of those that work in specific areas of law. On the other hand, a qualified paralegal is a person who is qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law. This is a more official paralegal, as opposed to a legal assistant title.

To be able to do the tasks expected of them, a paralegal clearly needs to be qualified. The qualifications needed for this type of job is a licence to Practice through NLAP. However, there are no set qualifications but a good general education. For instance, a degree in law is a good option to have, one which employers look highly upon. However, a paralegal can also be something worked towards with your employers help.

This is usually achieved by the completion of the Legal Practice Course (LPC).  The LPC can also be beneficial for other legal jobs, not just a paralegal role. Work experience is also highly advisable. Usually, at least 6 months experience of legal work. This experience can come from pro bono (without charge) work or placements etc. It is then usually solicitor firms, the NHS, charities or non-profit organisations that employ paralegals.

Essential Skills For a Paralegal

Clearly, paralegals need a high level of legal skills to provide such services. There are various skills a paralegal needs to carry out the role:

  • Office administrative skills for filling, typing and writing tasks
  • Negotiation skills
  • A flexible approach to work
  • Legal research skills
  • Professionalism
  • IT skills
  • Excellent written/verbal communication skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Ability to work in a team

Apart from a degree being sought after and an LPC being necessary to become a paralegal, firms may also look for added skills like these above and great commercial awareness.

Career Progression for a Paralegal

Paralegals can build their legal knowledge within their role once hired or in a specific area their employer firm specialises in. A senior paralegal position can also be reached which holds some extra responsibility. This includes taking control of a legal team while also organising them. This can give paralegals a successful career.

Some may even be able to have a training contract paid for which allows them to be able to exercise reserved activities. Therefore, paralegals may want to continue their training to become a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive after their training contract. Nevertheless, the salary for a paralegal in the UK is not bad; junior paralegals obtaining £14,000 to £22,000 while a paralegal with 3-5 years’ experience can obtain £30,000 to £40,000.


Therefore, as has been shown there are various skills that law firms expect from a paralegal. Furthermore, due to the wide nature of their work it is no doubt that paralegals are in fact the ‘fourth arm of the legal profession.’

By Kate Murray