How to become a paralegal
How to become a what?…That’s probably what many of you are thinking right about now, and I don’t blame you – it’s not a job you hear mentioned very often or one likely to have been forefront in your mind when you were asked as a child “what would you like to be when you grow up?”
(Incidentally you probably would have said dentist or fireman or chef so for those of you chasing your childhood dreams check out our guides.)
But to bring us back on point, a paralegal (sometimes known as a legal assistant) is a person who is not a lawyer or a barrister but is qualified through experience, training and education to carry out certain legal work. It has become a very generic term in recent years and can refer to people carrying out legal duties in a number of working environments such as financial services, banking and retail. For the sake of argument (and to save confusion) we will focus on paralegals who work for solicitors in the legal profession.
What kind of duties does a paralegal have?
Paralegals are indispensable within a solicitor’s office and play a key role in the legal process completing work including (but not limited to) interviews, legal research, writing for briefs, preparing evidence for court, preparing legal documents, providing legal information, presenting applications and handling a caseload of clients. In effect, a paralegal undertakes many of the same duties as a solicitor without actually being fully qualified. It’s a career that is growing rapidly in popularity and credibility as the level of responsibility being given to them is ever increasing.
It’s a very highly skilled job and as you can imagine has excellent opportunities for career progression and generous salaries to boot!
Given the considerable responsibilities that paralegals undertake, you may be surprised to know that there is no legal minimum requirement to operate as one, although employers are of course free to request any qualifications they like. So to boost your chances and give yourself the best possible opportunity in your new career it would be wise to consider one or more of the following…
The Institute of Legal Professionals and City and Guilds offer; Level 2 Certificate and Diploma in Legal Studies, Level 3 Award in Legal Studies and Levels 3-4 Certificate and Diploma for Legal Secretaries
The National Association of Licensed Paralegals offer; Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies and Para-legal Practical Skills Courses
The Institute of Paralegals offers: a Legal Practitioners’ Qualification Foundation Certificate in Paralegal studies and BTEC Levels 2-3 Awards in Law and Legal Work.
It is also worth noting that law graduates who do not wish to become a fully qualified lawyer can complete a Level 7 Postgraduate Diploma in Paralegal practice in order to begin a career as a paralegal.
These qualifications can all be undertaken via distance learning or through your local college so be sure to check their prospectus to see where you can complete them!
What skills will be advantageous?
I will quickly reiterate what I said before – you don’t have to have any specific qualifications in order to be a paralegal as many legal practices offer entry-level positions and will value prior experience, potential and skills very highly. Here are some of the skills and attributes they will be looking for…
Outstanding verbal and written communication is absolutely essential
The ability to develop effective working relationships with all levels of people
The ability to understand and synthesise large volumes of complex legal information
Excellent research skills and the ability to relay this information in a clear and concise manner
Good interpersonal skills, as well as discretion and tact when dealing with a range of clients
The ability to deal with personal information and an understanding of data-protection
An excellent range of administration skills
The ability and desire to work in a highly target driven environment and often to tight deadlines
An interest in legal processes and the desire to develop your knowledge and skills
Great organisation skills and the ability to manage your time effectively
Hopefully now you will have a better idea of exactly what a paralegal does and how you can become one. If you are still considering beginning your new career in law be sure to check out the National Association of Licensed Paralegals for all the information you will need! Best of luck!
Looking for a job, but not sure what career path to follow? Check TheEmployable “How to become” career directory.