Life as a Paralegal

Life as a Paralegal

As a law student, you learn that at the very core of legal practice is the importance of following precedent. However, this tendency to follow what has gone before is also reflected in the approach to becoming a solicitor.

Most readers will be familiar with the traditional route to becoming a solicitor. You study for your law degree and then go on to study the LPC, which will then hopefully lead to a training contract and qualification two years later.

Whilst the introduction of the GDL has helped to transform some of the preconceptions about what you need to do to become a solicitor, the journey to qualification has rarely strayed off the traditional, well-trodden path.

…most people tend to have is that paralegals exist only in the realm of American TV series

Embarking on my final year at university and, despite my best efforts, without a training contact in the bag, I began to question whether the LPC really was the only viable next step. Aside from the lack of a training contract, enrolling on the LPC did not seem a suitable choice for me, simply because I couldn’t afford the astronomical fees. Leaving university saddled with the debt of my undergraduate degree, the prospect of having to find a further £15,000 or thereabouts for my LPC was simply quite daunting.

However, I was far too stubborn to let this financial hurdle get in the way of the legal career that I felt so passionately about.

A career as a paralegal was something I had not previously given much thought to. At the numerous careers events I had attended during my time as an undergraduate, it was never presented as an alternative to studying the LPC straight after university. In fact asking various friends the impression most people tend to have is that paralegals exist only in the realm of American TV series, such as Suits.

However, after some careful research I discovered that paralegal positions were a fantastic way of getting valuable experience whilst being able to save to study for the LPC. After a whirlwind of letters, application forms, CVs and interviews I landed a job as a paralegal in the immigration team of a top commercial firm.

Having been there for just under two months now, I am confident that I made the right choice by not starting my LPC straight after university. In such a short space of time I have already been involved in some really interesting cases, had regular contact with exciting clients and learnt a huge amount. I am given a great deal of responsibility in my job but, working in a close-knit supportive team, there is always someone willing to help if I need it.

As the weeks have passed, I have begun to wonder why paralegal positions are not promoted at university or elsewhere as a credible choice for students graduating without a training contract or the funds to commit to the LPC.

A recurring theme in the replies I received was the value of the experience you get as a paralegal.

Embracing the digital age we now inhabit, I took to Twitter to find out what others in the legal profession had to say on the matter of paralegals. After a minute or so tweeting to ask other paralegals to share their experiences, I was overwhelmed with responses. Those who responded included newly appointed paralegals, experienced ones, NQs who started out as paralegals, academics, educational institutions as well as students currently at university.

For a stereotypically argumentative bunch, what was interesting was the level of agreement from these lawyers and lawyers to be. A recurring theme in the replies I received was the value of the experience you get as a paralegal. One paralegal praised the ‘valuable experience and insight’, whilst another said that as a paralegal you get ‘as much responsibility as a trainee and meet interesting people – priceless experience’.

I spoke to Beth, a trainee solicitor who worked as a paralegal at her firm before they offered her a training contract. She told me that she honestly believed that it was the best option for her because she gained so much experience that she would not have had the opportunity to get if she had gone straight into a training contract.

My expectations of being a paralegal were that I would end up doing all of the jobs others did not want to do, this was due in part to my first few weeks experience, however my view has now changed. It obviously varies from firm to firm but now I believe that as a paralegal you get out of it whatever you put in. It would be easy enough to simply plod along only doing the jobs given to you and never progress however if you show a real willingness to improve your skills and experience then it can lead to the end goal of a training contract.

As the market for training contracts becomes increasingly saturated with bright and ambitious new graduates, it is no surprise that it is more and more difficult to make yourself stand out from the crowd. A job as a paralegal is not a guarantee of a training contract. It is, however, an opportunity to get unrivalled experience of what it means to be a lawyer. It is evidence of your dedication and tenacity in pursuing a legal career.

I have learnt a great deal in my brief time as a paralegal so far and I am sure that I have only just scratched the surface. This job means that I can save for my LPC, get fantastic experience and meet some great people, all of which will hopefully lead to a training contract in the not too distant future. After all, the journey to becoming a lawyer is as important as the destination itself.

Lauren is a Paralegal at Lewis Silkin and studied Law at Queen Mary, University of London.

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