How to Become a Paralegal
Becoming a Paralegal is a hugely popular career path taken by graduates and entry level candidates looking to break into the legal profession, as well as those who are looking to transition to law from another occupation. So, if you have ever found yourself wondering how to become a Paralegal, you are far from alone.
With several different routes to choose from and no specific entry requirements to become a Paralegal in the UK, it can be hard to know which is the right first step to take. In this article, we are going to look at the options available so you can make an informed decision about how you are going to progress your Paralegal career.
What is a Paralegal?
A Paralegal is a type of legal professional who takes on a variety of duties, either in a law firm or within an in-house legal department. Traditionally, Paralegals were largely responsible for administrative and support tasks, while fee earning and client contact was left to Solicitors. However, in more recent years, many Paralegals have been taking on increasingly complex responsibilities and some now run caseloads of their own.
If you can take on exciting fee earning legal work without the years of training it takes to qualify as a Solicitor, why wouldn’t you be tempted to become a Paralegal?
So, what does a Paralegal do?
Some key responsibilities of a Paralegal include:
• Drafting, preparing and proofreading documents
• Carrying out legal research
• General admin tasks like letter writing, billing and filing
• Writing reports
• Taking witness statements
• Meeting with experts, claimants or clients
• Handling a caseload of work
• Attending court
There are some tasks that Paralegals cannot do. These are known as reserved activities and can only be carried out by appropriately qualified Lawyers. Reserved activities include:
• Representing clients in most courts
• Conducting litigation
• Transfer of land
• Probate activities
• Administration of Oaths
Learn more about key responsibilities of the role in this Paralegal job description article, or check out our interview with Gemma Williams which sheds further light on the day-to-day life of an in-house Paralegal.
How to Become a Paralegal
If you are interested in the Paralegal role and have spent some time researching how to get on the right career path, you may already know that there are several different ways of becoming a Paralegal. You might have also learned that there are no minimum requirements for the role, meaning you can become a Paralegal without a degree.
What you might not have yet figured out is the best way for you to become a Paralegal. In this section of the article, we aim to help you answer that question.
One of the most popular ways of becoming a Paralegal is via a Paralegal apprenticeship.
Like other apprenticeships, these courses combine learning with practical work experience to offer a rounded pathway to becoming a Paralegal. As a level 3 qualification, a Paralegal apprenticeship is equivalent to A-levels.
Embarking on a Paralegal apprenticeship, you can expect to support fee earners who will supervise you and provide you with on-the-job training. Better still, you will be paid a salary for the duration of your course and, if you make a good impression, you stand the chance of being employed as a permanent member of staff once your Paralegal apprenticeship is complete.
Becoming a Paralegal via an apprenticeship offers the distinct advantage of having hands-on involvement in real legal work - something that simply cannot be replicated in academic courses.
Paralegal apprentices can expect to:
• Review and draft a range of documents
• Assist with the opening, progression and completion of files
• Carry out legal research
• Communicate with clients
What do I need to become a Paralegal apprentice?
There are no set stipulations for Paralegal apprenticeships, so employers will identify their own entry requirements. At a minimum, employers often look for maths and English GCSEs along with two A-levels, all at grade C or above.
Who is it for?
Paralegal Apprenticeships are ideal for those who learn best through a combination of classroom teaching and practical experience.
Academic Paralegal Courses
There are also several traditional educational pathways which can dramatically improve your chances of having a successful Paralegal career.
Although a university degree is not an essential prerequisite for becoming a Paralegal, as with many careers, it can make you a more employable candidate. Naturally, a law degree will give you a great foundation on which to build your career, but many Paralegals take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) after studying another non-law subject at undergraduate level. Some then go on to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is traditionally part of the process of becoming a Solicitor.
You can find out more about both the GDL and the LPC in our article on how to become a Solicitor.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) also offers several qualifications which will give you a competitive edge when applying for Paralegal jobs. These qualifications are available at a range of levels to suit prospective Paralegals of different educational backgrounds.
Find out more about CILEx Paralegal courses here.
It is also worth considering taking a Paralegal course with a specialist provider such as Central Law Training or the Paralegal College. If you do decide to take this route, make sure that the qualification on offer is recognised by employers. Both of these providers have had their courses approved by our strategic partners at the Institute of Paralegals.
So, to recap, some of the key academic Paralegal qualifications and courses include:
• LLB Law degree
• Another undergraduate degree with the GDL
• CILEx certificates
• Paralegal diploma from a specialist provider
The Institute of Paralegals (IOP) is set to launch the IOP Law School this year with a range of courses that are specialist in nature. These will map to the competency standards and provide direct routes into specialist Paralegal jobs.
Who is it for?
Paralegal training, courses and qualifications like those detailed above are perfect for people who learn best in an academic environment. There are lots of options available, so make sure you do your research to find the right course for you, your learning style and your career goals.
Becoming a Paralegal by Experience
Some Paralegals choose to avoid formal qualifications altogether, instead opting to work their way up from the bottom and becoming a Paralegal by experience.
These Paralegals usually enter the profession at the lowest level, often in an administrative or support role of some kind, before progressing up the career ladder via hard graft and on-the-job learning. If you can make a good impression on your employer and demonstrate your commitment to becoming a Paralegal, they may offer you enhanced training and development opportunities.
Who is it for?
While this route can sometimes take longer than a Paralegal apprenticeship or qualification, it is ideal for school or college leavers who want to dive straight into the world of work.
The Institute of Paralegals offers an Experiential Route for those that have many years of experience working as a Paralegal but do not have the requisite qualifications.
Becoming a Recognised Professional Paralegal
If you are serious about a successful career as a Paralegal, we recommend becoming a member of the Institute of Paralegals
As a member of the Institute you demonstrate a commitment to exceptionally high standards and ethics; you inspire confidence and stand out from the crowd.
When you join the IOP, you are automatically enrolled on the professional paralegal career path. The career path has four steps, each reflected by a different Institute membership grade. The four stages are:
• Affiliate member
• Associate Paralegal (A.Inst.Pa)
• Qualified Paralegal (Q.Inst.Pa)
• Fellow of the IOP (F.Inst.Pa)
You can join the IOP at any of the four stages, provided you meet the requirements detailed here.
IOP membership is an internationally recognised professional status which demonstrates a high standard of education and experience to employers and clients, along with a commitment to development and keeping your skills up to date.
Benefits of becoming a recognised professional Paralegal include:
• IOP Professional Designation
• New digital membership certificates and badges provided by Accredible
• Free webinars to count towards your CPD
• Free daily e-news legal updates from Lexology delivered to your email in more than 40 areas of law
• Free monthly e-newsletter – The Paralegal
• Eligibility to become a registered and/or regulated member of the Professional Paralegal Register
• Free affiliate membership with the New York City Paralegal Association for one year
• Confirmed right to countersign passports
• Lifestyle benefits – IOP Perks
• Competency standards
• Career path guidance
• Education & training network
• Careers advice
• Networking events
Joining the IOP will show prospective employers that you are serious about a career as a professional paralegal and will help distinguish you from the hundreds of law graduates also applying for Paralegal jobs.
Whichever route you take to become a Paralegal, there are some key skills that will be essential for a successful career. So, what are the skills needed to be a Paralegal?
• Commercial and business acumen
• Written and verbal communication skills
• Attention to detail
• The ability to work as part of a team
• Flexibility and adaptability
• The ability to work to deadlines under high pressure
• Empathy and client care skills
• Research skills
• Administration skills
The Institute of Paralegals produce the competency standards for the profession that provide detail on desired skills.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?
As we have covered in this article, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to becoming a Paralegal. While that means that you have greater flexibility and more options, it also means that there is no definitive length of time that it takes to become a Paralegal.
For example, some Paralegal apprenticeships - take 24 months to complete, while someone studying a law degree will spend 3 years at university before they have their first Paralegal job. The time taken to become a Paralegal by experience could be longer still, depending on how quickly you climb the career ladder.
How to Become a Paralegal: Making Your Decision
We hope that this article has helped give you a better understanding of the various routes that you could take to become a Paralegal.
Here are some final thoughts to consider when making your decision:
• Whichever way you choose to become a Paralegal, ensure it is nationally or even internationally recognised. There is no use spending your time and money on a qualification that will not help you to get a job.
• Make sure your course - if you choose one - has at least some practical elements such as on-the-job training or a work experience placement. If you have a law degree but no vocational experience and you go up against someone who has spent 6 months in a law firm, you may be at a disadvantage.
• Think about which practice area you want to specialise in and then take the necessary steps towards this. The various legal practice areas are all very distinct, so generalist Paralegal courses are not likely to help you land a job.
If your mind is not yet made up, check out our comprehensive Paralegal job description article to find out more about the daily lives of these essential legal professionals.
Already working as a Paralegal? Check out the latest Paralegal jobs today on TotallyLegal.