While some may refer to paralegals simply as ‘unqualified lawyers’, these legal personnel are the backbone to law firms via their underlying support of fee-earners – no wonder the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) refers to them as the ‘Fourth Arm of The Legal Profession’. 

Qualified in education, but not in status, paralegals work in both the public and private sectors, specialising in one or more areas of law. They are regulated by bodies, such as the Solicitors Regulatory Association, or the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX). In practice, their duties mirror those of solicitors. Hence, they include scheduling and attending client meetings, courts & tribunal hearings, alongside dealing with administrative work, namely:

  • carrying out legal research and written/oral correspondence;
  • drafting documents (e.g. contracts, memorandums, witness statements, case reports);
  • filing cases;
  • interviewing and billing clients;
  • analysing data; and
  • assisting with proofreading other officials’ work.

Given the scope of their work, good paralegals are shaped by the following key attributes:

  • the ability to carry out meticulous research, whilst being punctual in their time management;
  • strong computer literacy;
  • excellent interpersonal skills and communication; and
  • a professional etiquette.

In terms of remuneration, paralegal wages are contingent upon experience, and the intensity and complexity of their associated work. Entry-level paralegals can expect a starting salary of £14,000-£18,000 depending on their graduation status. Graduate paralegals tend to receive between £22,000 and £28,000 on average, while senior paralegals, on the other hand, can be financially appraised at £45,000-£50,000. Whereas, in very rare cases, some paralegals working in the most profitable law firms are valued at more than £70,000 annually.

Paralegal Education Requirements

Whilst there are no formally set education criteria, paralegals with a completed Legal Practice Course (LPC)/Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), or a Law Degree will be advantaged when applying for jobs.  

  • A two-year-long Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship will secure you a structured academic qualification with bodies like CILEX.
  • The Postgraduate Paralegal Diploma is another way of receiving a paralegal practice license through this educational accreditation.

Paralegal Education Costs

One precedence of paralegal positions over solicitor roles is the costs of qualifying determined by NALP.

  • The Level 3 Paralegal Practice qualification is divided into:
    • an Award for £450;
    • a Certificate for £770;
    • a Full Diploma for £1190; or
    • a single unit of studies for £250.
  • The Level 4 Paralegal Studies are split into:
    • Parts One and Two (each worth £750);
    • a Full Diploma at the price of £1380; or
    • a single unit of studies for £250.
  • The Level 7 Paralegal qualification is fractioned into:
    • a Post Graduate Diploma totalling £1660; or
    • a single unit of studies for £475.

All Awards/Courses/Diplomas take a maximum of 24 months to complete and a minimum of:

  • 4-6 months for the Level 3 Award;
  • 6-8 months for the Level 3 Certificate and the Level 7 Diploma; and
  • 10-14 months for the Levels 3 and 4 Diplomas.

Desired Experience for a Paralegal

Unless doing a paralegal apprenticeship, aspiring paralegals must obtain at least 6 months of legal work experience. The following three options will suffice this requirement:

  • Internships, vacation schemes, or work placements at law firms. While company-hosted work experience placements & vacation schemes tend to be shorter in length (typically between 1-4 weeks), legal internships can stretch up to 4 months and there is a chance they may be paid. This type of information can be clarified on events, such as open days, hence it is useful to attend them. However, these programmes are not restricted only to the private sector – the same opportunities are offered by many respected public organisations and institutions, such as the United Nations and the UK Government’s Legal Department.
  • Volunteering and pro-bono work. Carrying out free-of-charge legal work is a useful way to acquire work experience, demonstrate self-initiative, and support great causes. Law Centres and the Citizens Advice Bureau’s legal division are the perfect places to apply for such practicum.
  • Part-time placements. Common amongst university students, learning on-the-job in an establishment for a day or two weekly helps build your CV and sets you steadily on your track to securing a paralegal role.

Step By Step: How to Become A Paralegal

There is no specific way set in stone of becoming a paralegal, but as a start, obtaining GCSEs and A-Levels, plus the LPC/PGDL or NALP education would be beneficial in proving one is academically capable for the job. Another possible paralegal qualification route is completing an apprenticeship with a firm and an academic provider, where the study-work ratio is 20%-80%.

The following tips must be considered both when applying for apprenticeships and standard paralegal jobs:

  • Applications come about either as a cover letter-CV combination, or an online application form, all depending on which method a firm opts to pursue. The latter consists of different sections: your personal details, education, application questions, and contextual (gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc.).
  • Psychometric tests are used to assess candidates’ knowledge, capabilities (especially critical thinking) and whether their character matches an organisation’s values, hence are regularly used in application processes. To prepare most accordingly for them, either do online training or get hold of psychometric testing practice books. Usually, only the top percentile (e.g. top 70 percentile) are progressed through to the next stage: an interview.
  • Interviews are typically the last hurdle before securing the job. Be prepared to tackle questions revolving around:
    • why you want to become a paralegal;
    • why you want to work in a company/a particular branch;
    • what applicable skills and experience you can offer that would make you a good fit for the position;
    • the areas of law you would like to work on; and
    • situation-based tasks, for instance, how you would deal with clients or manage time.

Interested In The Role, But Struggle To Find The Right Vacancy?

The more vacancy resources you are aware of, the bigger success chances your job hunt will register. Here are five of the most crucial starting points of your paralegal role search quest:

  • Indeedn.co.uk and Reed.co.uk are two of the most frequently used job boards offering paralegal vacancies not only by law firms but other institutions as well, e.g. banks. Further on the plus side, remote jobs could also be advertised on these platforms.
  • LinkedIn is undoubtedly the most popular professional business network platform, which currently offers over 4,000 paralegal jobs across the UK. There are many benefits of using exactly LinkedIn, namely:
    • the fact that the LinkedIn system matches your profile to relevant jobs, and as such can offer the best paralegal roles;
    • the potentiality of being spotted by a recruiter looking for paralegals; and
    • following content related to paralegal role events.
  • Recruiters and recruitment agencies. As opposed to questioning ‘Where can I find the ideal paralegal job?’, ask yourself ‘Who can find me and offer me the dream position?’. LinkedIn and other job websites bring the opportunity to create a profile, where you can include your professional expertise, skills, achievements, and interests, or even straightforwardly attach your CV. Build and maintain such an account – recruiters are constantly looking for quality candidates, so their next pick may well be you!
  • Company websites. While small and middle-sized companies tend to advertise paralegal roles via agencies, larger companies abstain from this practice. Their website will be one of the very few places (apart from LinkedIn) of paralegal roles’ availability. Candidates should produce a table with all the paralegal jobs of interest and their application deadlines. The downside of this process is that it is considerably more time-consuming than using prepared and synthesised information on offer by job websites. Nevertheless, visiting a law firm’s website will immerse you better into the culture, values, projects, and pro-bono work of that organisation so that you will understand if this is the place that would present the most suitable position for you.
  • The Law Gazette’s job page. Run by The Law Society itself, this resource is extremely useful for finding paralegal jobs because it can pragmatically attract your attention with just three bullet-points: the role’s location and salary, plus the recruitment agency listing the vacancy.

Remember to prioritise this paralegal job-seeking tip: the ideal vacancy may be hiding just around the corner, so make sure to research opportunities regularly as vacancies are continuously listed, but so are filled too.

By Georgi Minchev