Once upon a time, if an individual was completing a qualifying law degree, it undoubtedly signified that they were intending to go on and sit professional examinations to be a solicitor or barrister. This is no longer necessarily the case. One excellent option is to become a paralegal.
Becoming a paralegal is far less costly than becoming a solicitor
Qualifying as a Paralegal is significantly less costly than qualifying as a solicitor. The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) allows for two routes to qualification: the first is for non-law degree applicants; the second for those with a law degree. The costs for the first route should include prep courses for the SQE of anywhere between £2,500 and £5,000 plus the approximate cost of sitting for the SQE itself of £4,000.
As a law graduate, you can work as a paralegal without any further qualifications, but most employers will look for relevant paralegal qualifications. The NALP Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice is designed to bridge the gap between an academic degree and the practical, procedural knowledge and skills necessary to be able to function effectively as a Paralegal Practitioner. The National Paralegal College is currently charging £1,660 for this. As a distance learning qualification, this can be studied whilst you are working, so you can start working—and earning—within a legal practice or in a legal department whilst studying.
You can start working in a legal environment sooner
Becoming a solicitor in the UK takes 5-6 years, including your degree. This includes your SQE and at least two years of qualifying legal work experience. Qualifying as a Paralegal will take you less time and be less costly. It is important to find that job as soon as possible after you qualify, as practical experience is vitally important. Look for paralegal jobs that will give you that crucial experience that help you learn how to apply the theoretical knowledge you gained whilst studying. Working as a paralegal can be within a legal environment such as a law firm but experience can also be gained by working within companies, charities and in-house legal departments in industry.
You can do almost everything a solicitor can
A paralegal is not simply an assistant to a solicitor. Paralegals can practise law in their own right provided certain criteria are met. However, reserved activities—such as conveyancing and conducting litigation—are areas in which a paralegal cannot practise, but there are many more where they can.
Here are just a few:
- Assisting someone who wishes to represent themselves in court
- Help people who have been arrested and taken to a police station
- Helping people with matrimonial issues
- When someone wishes to take action against an employer through a tribunal
- Assisting in the writing or a will or obtaining lasting power of attorney.
It can be a stepping-stone
Paralegals are in high demand and being a paralegal is a rewarding career in itself. Nevertheless, for some it may be a stepping-stone to becoming a solicitor. Paralegals are an extremely important part of the legal profession and the experience you gain as a paralegal can hold you in good stead if you wish to become a solicitor later down the line.
By Amanda Hamilton, CEO, National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.