Have you ever wondered how to kickstart a career in law? Or perhaps if you had the relevant skills and qualifications to become a legal professional?
If the legal sector has ever been of interest, you certainly have heard of the Paralegal profession. After all, Paralegals have been getting a lot of attention within the entertainment industry, often being depicted in movies and TV shows as young legal professionals working tirelessly in prestigious law firms and trying to move up the corporate ladder. We see them surrounded by books and files, performing a lot of research and digging into old cases - is this though an actual reflection of what the role entails? Or is this a romanticised version of the profession? And what would be the key differences between Paralegals working at renowned law firms - like we see in the movies - and those who occupy the same position for corporate businesses?
In the below, we will shed a light on what it takes to be a Paralegal in the United Kingdom, how lucrative the position can be based on the industry and what are the usual key responsibilities in relation to the role.
What is a Paralegal?
So what does a Paralegal do?
As mentioned in our article What Is a Paralegal Job, the Paralegal job description will consist of assisting lawyers, solicitors and barristers with their day-to-day duties, whether these take place in meeting rooms or in court. Paralegals are instrumental in the growth of a given firm as they will generally support lawyers with tasks - legal or administrative - that will free their time up and allow them to concentrate on business development and fee earning duties. In a way, you could say that Paralegals are the foundation of an overall in-house legal structure.
The Difference Between Paralegals and Solicitors
The main difference between a Paralegal and a Solicitor (or Lawyer) is that the former doesn’t require qualifications whilst the latter needs them in order to perform their job. This means that Paralegals will be limited in terms of responsibilities, as some tasks will require oversight from a qualified Lawyer and extensive legal knowledge.
Many aspiring lawyers will see the Paralegal job as a stepping stone to a successful legal career: it isn’t uncommon to come across Paralegals who have either undertaken a law degree or are working towards finishing one. These future qualified lawyers might have a larger scope of duties in their workplace: because they are actively working towards their qualification, some businesses will let them take on duties that are more aligned with their professional goals.
What Skills and Qualifications Are Required to Become a Paralegal in the UK
Becoming a paralegal in the UK can be a rewarding career option, requiring a range of qualifications and skills. Prospective paralegals should obtain either a paralegal qualification at NVQ Level 3 or 4 or an Undergraduate law degree. Additionally to these academic achievements, paralegals must have the right mix of qualities such as good communication and relationship building skills. One should also possess excellent research and problem-solving abilities with an aptitude for staying organised in order to ensure that all legal documents are properly filed as each legal case changes and develops.
Taking on a paralegal job in the UK requires that candidates demonstrate initiative and possess meticulous attention to detail when it comes to dealing with sensitive information necessary for preparing important court documentation.
The Specific Duties and Responsibilities of a Paralegal in Private Practice vs In-house
A paralegal is an important asset in any legal department but paralegal job responsibilities and duties may have significant differences depending on the organisation - law firm or corporate business. Paralegals at law firms typically assist solicitors with drafting legal documents, researching case law and relevant matters, attending court hearings and generally providing administrative support.
In contrast, paralegals within a corporate business, often referred to as in house legal, might be responsible for researching or updating regulations concerning their industry, preparing documents for board meetings or agreements such as shareholders' contracts, or managing legal budgets.
Career Advancements For a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal is a great choice for those interested in the legal field, as it provides an entry point to a vast array of further career paths. After working as a paralegal, some might choose to pursue a law degree in order to become a lawyer and find success either within the same firm or elsewhere. Alternatively, those with experience can use their knowledge and qualifications gained to move into roles such as legal administrator or fund administrator.
There are also research-focussed careers that could be explored by someone with needed experience in analysis and understanding of documents like wills, contracts and leases. On top of this, advanced educational programs on areas such as real estate law or property development offer further possibilities. Paralegals have excellent opportunity to open up an entire career landscape which is both exciting and rewarding - only the individual’s capabilities and interests determine the right path for each individual situation.
Will Paralegals Become Obsolete In the Future?
There has been a lot of hearsay around the future of the Paralegal profession, as automation is becoming bigger by the minute within the legal sector. More and more, we have been seeing both within in-house functions and private practice firms sophisticated automation software replacing duties that usually fall within the remit of Paralegals. Perusal and legal research are only some of the few tasks which are increasingly being automated.
This doesn’t mean that the Paralegal role will disappear altogether; it instead implies that certain skills will be more important in the eyes of hiring firms. Creativity, logic and empathy will be highly regarded, moreso if a candidate can demonstrate these soft skills alongside great legal knowledge and a desire to go above and beyond the typical Paralegal job description.
Do I need a law degree to be a paralegal?
In short - no you do not. A law degree is not a necessary requirement if you wish to become a Paralegal.
Some Paralegals have been able to undertake their duties simply with on-the-job training. Others have opted for a specific Paralegal course. Not everyone is on the same journey: those who see a Paralegal job as the first step to become a qualified lawyer will need a law degree to meet their end goal.
On the other hand, if one's intention is to remain a Paralegal over time, then a specific degree in the field won't be necessary. Paralegals are unregulated in most jurisdictions, meaning they do not need a licence to complete their duties and assist a qualified lawyer.
Keep in mind that this does not mean that one can get into any firm with no relevant background whatsoever. Because of the lack of specific qualifications required for a Paralegal role, firms tend to have a set of requirements to consider candidates; some may ask for previous exposure to an office environment, a legal internship, etc.
Where do Paralegals make the most money?
The compensation for Paralegals in the UK will highly depend on the firm and the sector operated in. Numerous salary surveys have shown that Paralegals earn an average of £35,000 in the United Kingdom, with certain businesses paying around £19,000 per annum and others up to £65,000 a year.
Whilst there are exceptions to the rule, when it comes to the Private Practice sector, Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms will usually offer interesting compensation for Paralegals - though there will be a ceiling at some point as the job is not regulated or qualified. Compensation within Private Practice will usually be made up of a basic salary combined with a yearly bonus which represents a low percentage of the annual salary.
The in-house market is known as the most lucrative option, with basic salaries usually being higher than their private practice counterparts. Yearly bonuses are also perceived as more appealing, with a bigger percentage being given away at the end of a firm's fiscal year.
What does a Paralegal do every day?
The Paralegal job description will obviously vary from one business to the other, but there are some generic tasks which one will find across sectors and firms. These will include legal drafting, legal research and documents perusal.
Paralegals will require strong attention to detail and overall legal knowledge because of the complexity of some of their tasks. They will be asked to assist qualified lawyers on numerous legal and administrative duties, meaning they will be exposed to a large array of situations and challenges which will require strong knowledge and skills.
Depending on the sector or industry, some additional tasks may include interviewing clients and witnesses for cases, going to court, billing clients, writing reports, drafting and proofreading legal documents.
What are the Paralegal job duties?
Paralegal job duties will always depend on the firm and the individual. For instance, as stated above, some Paralegals will decide to never get qualified and stick to their current lot of legal and administrative duties.
But those who have - or are in the process of - getting qualifications may be asked to take on a wider list of duties. This will solely be at the firm's discretion.
Whilst this is a case by case situation, Paralegals will usually oversee the below duties amongts other things:
Looking for Paralegal jobs within the financial services industry? Rutherford might be able to help you. Our specialist governance recruitment firm has an entire team dedicated solely to in-house legal roles, which cover Paralegals.