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The continued evolution of the paralegal role 

Published on: 4 Oct 2016

Given law firms’ ever growing reliance on paralegals it’s somewhat unsurprising that the role is becoming ever more closely aligned to that of a trainee and that a growing number of graduates are opting to gain experience in the area before applying for or undertaking training contracts. 

According to a recent study, ‘From recruitment to robots: Growth strategies for law firms’, published by corporate law firm Fox Williams, ‘non-legal’ roles are becoming increasingly important within law firms. Six in ten respondents, who were all managing partners at UK top 200 firms, identified the increased utilisation of paralegals and other ‘non-qualified’ staff as a strong growth prospect. According to the survey, the increased use of these professionals could ‘also point to more efficient ways of delivering legal services, in line with client needs and the nature of the work and levels of expertise required.’

Though there is a great deal of emphasis on the demanding nature of training contracts, ‘paralegalling’ is by no means a 9 to 5 role. In fact a recent survey, conducted by a major legal publication, found that, on average, paralegals work 42 hours a week. However that figure rises for London based firms, and again for the Magic Circle, where paralegals work an average of 43.5 and 46 hours a week respectively. In fact, 73% of respondents said that they worked just as long hours as the qualified lawyers within their firm. 

According to the research paralegals are often viewed as trainees in all but name. Half of the paralegals surveyed indicated that their day to day work constitutes that of a trainee, and one in five indicated that they are often given tasks above what a trainee would be assigned. By contrast, only 14% of paralegals surveyed said that their work was below that of a trainee. Moreover 60% of those surveyed indicated that they have been assigned work normally given to newly qualified lawyers on more than one occasion, while a further 15% said they were given this kind of work ‘all the time’. These statistics go a long way in demonstrating the growing importance of the paralegal and prove that experienced paralegals are doing far more than mere administrative tasks.

Though paralegal pay may not sit in the same ballpark as figures commonly offered to trainees and newly qualified lawyers, it’s certainly a range that most graduates would be content with. Full time paralegals with under a year’s experience are commonly offered between £20,000 and £30,000 in London, while outside of the capital pay for the same role usually sits between £15,000 and £20,000. 

There is a widely accepted consensus within the legal profession that paralegals are more qualified now than ever, a recent survey indicated that 86% of paralegals now have a degree, with firms tapping into the growing pools of LPC graduates yet to secure a training contract. Paralegal roles certainly work in the favour of both law firms, and graduates themselves, with law firms benefitting from the knowledge of highly educated graduates, and young professionals able to gain valuable commercial experience.  

It’s clear that the paralegal path has become a highly viable, and well traversed, route into the profession with a survey indicating that 43% of paralegals are currently looking for a training contract, a further 4% seeking pupillage, and 22% using the role to gain valuable experience in the period before starting a training contract. Only 4% of those surveyed said they had no ambition of becoming a qualified lawyer, and it seems that the paralegal route may now be one of the best ways to get there. Of all of the respondents with training contracts lined up, a staggering 44% had secured it through their work as a paralegal. 

It’s encouraging to see so many ambitious professionals strengthening their chances of securing a training contract through paralegal work, and the number of graduates keen to gain commercial experience before their official training can only be good news for the profession as a whole.  

Do you think paralegals are of growing importance in law firms? 

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