- What do paralegals do?
- Paralegal career path
- Paralegal salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Paralegal skills
- Pros and cons of being a paralegal
- Paralegal work life balance
- Typical employers
- Related jobs
Are you fascinated by the law? Do you love connecting the dots and searching out relevant information? If you want a job that combines your analytical skills with your critical thinking skills, a career as a paralegal could be perfect for you.
What do paralegals do?
Paralegals work with solicitors to help clients and build legal cases. You do the behind the scenes work that is necessary for your colleagues to successfully assist a client with their legal needs. Here are the responsibilities that you have as a paralegal:
- Meet with colleagues to discuss the cases they’re working on and the support that they need.
- Research historic and recent legal cases that are relevant to the case you’re working on.
- Write, proofread and edit legal documents.
- Schedule meetings with clients.
- Organise billing the client.
Paralegal career path
Most paralegal jobs are within a law firm where you work with many clients on lots of different legal cases throughout your working life. You could decide to work as a part of an in-house legal team for a specific organisation; dealing with the legal issues that impact the organisation as they arise. In both instances, you’re exposed to other career paths that are open to you. If you enjoy working within the law and want to work directly with clients, you could become a solicitor or chartered legal executive with further qualifications. If you want to move to a more administrative role, you could become a legal secretary. Here is the career path that you could follow as a paralegal:
You begin your working life as a trainee paralegal. This role is designed to teach you many of the skills you need as a paralegal. Your work is supervised by a more senior member of the team so you check off any legal documents that you proofread and write, discuss research you conduct into historic cases and collaboratively check for availability for meetings that you organise.
With experience and once you’ve got a thorough understanding of the role, you become a paralegal. This role gives you the freedom to do your own work to assist solicitors and chartered legal executives by building legal cases. Part of your work includes going to events and meeting clients to demonstrate the type of talent that the firm has and what the firm can offer to the client.
You could progress to a senior paralegal role. As a senior member of the team, you’re given the most responsibility and assigned the most complex cases. Part of your work is training junior colleagues when they join and supervising trainee paralegals.
Your work as a paralegal is typically in a legal firm and you have the opportunity to work your way up within that firm. The specific salary that you earn depends on the type of organisation, its location and size, along with your expertise. Here are the salaries that you could earn in your career as a paralegal:
- In an entry-level job like trainee paralegal, you earn an average of £17,000 per year which can be as low as £14,000 and range up to £22,000 per year depending on the firm.
- As a paralegal, you earn an average of £23,000 per year which could extend to £33,000 per year.
- As a senior paralegal, you earn an average of £28,000 per year potentially reaching £40,000 per year.
Qualifications and training
Having the right education and experience is important for beginning your career as a paralegal. There are some fairly specific education requirements which you should follow to put you in the best position possible to join the paralegal career path. Here are the qualifications and training that you need to be a paralegal:
Most paralegals have an undergraduate degree. You can do a degree in law and choose your modules based on the interests you have within the law. Alternatively, you can do any degree subject and do a one or two year law conversion course after. Having a degree in law, either undergraduate or through a conversion course, gives you the background and contextual information that you can apply to your work. You also learn necessary skills for the paralegal career path like research, negotiation and longform writing. Having a master’s degree isn’t a requirement of the job but you could pursue one if you’re interested. Explore the courses available to you with the UCAS course search tool.
Another form of education for paralegals is studying for a diploma. This is often a less academically focused option, giving you all the necessary background and contextual information through a more practical educational approach. You can learn more about paralegal diplomas with the National Association of Licenced Paralegals.
Another option is an apprenticeship. In a paralegal apprenticeship, you learn about the career path from professionals working in the field. You shadow paralegals and help them with their cases so one day you can take on the work. Some apprenticeships include a formal education aspect where you complete a diploma or degree whilst working for the firm. If you’re interested in an apprenticeship, see what’s available to you with the government’s apprenticeship search tool.
Since the field of paralegals is known to be competitive, having some work experience outside of your education is a good way to help your application stand out. This is particularly important if you’re doing a degree and diploma because you won’t necessarily get the same practical training that you get in apprenticeships. One way of getting some work experience is through an internship, where you learn how to work well within a law firm and the develop skills that you need for the job. It’s also a great way to make connections and possibly secure a role once you’ve finished your education. If you’re interested in internships, view the commercial law internships and criminal and human rights law internships available to you right now.
Combining your qualifications and training with your skills is a good way to demonstrate to any hiring manager that you’re a good candidate. You can do this by including examples of when you’ve demonstrated your skills in your working life or during your education, when completing an application. If you want to make your applications stand out, complete this module on mastering application writing. Here are the skills you need to succeed as a paralegal:
- Knowledge of the law. You need to have a great understanding of legal practises, which you can in turn apply to the cases you’re working on.
- Legal writing. Not only do you need to be able to write well for a paralegal role, you also need to have a good understanding of how to write within the legal sector. You will write, proof and edit legal documents, so knowing the conventions accepted within the sector helps you get ahead and produce great work for a client.
- Research. You should be great at research. This means using your critical thinking and analytical skills to find relevant information in recent and historic legal cases by searching through databases and onsite libraries to find information that might be helpful.
- Organisation. You need great organisation skills to be a paralegal. Not only do you need to organise your own workload which could be extensive depending on the cases you’re working on, you also need to organise meetings for other members of the team and send out documentation to clients.
- Communication. You need good communication skills to be a paralegal so you can discuss any issues that arise. Your job includes briefing your colleagues on the work you’re doing and being able to communicate well helps you with this aspect of the work.
Pros and cons of being a paralegal
Like every job, there are good and bad parts of being a paralegal. Understanding these factors can help you decide if it’s the best career path for you. Here are the pros and cons of being a paralegal:
- It’s a pretty safe job and has good job security once you get a role.
- You can maintain a good work-life balance.
- There are several educational paths into a paralegal career.
- The salary is not very high, even in senior paralegal positions. It’s low compared to the solicitors, chartered legal executives and barristers that you work alongside.
- It can be difficult to get into the legal sector because of its highly competitive nature.
- Law firms can have a stressful environment because of the high stakes work you’re doing alongside your colleagues.
Paralegal work-life balance
Maintaining a good work-life balance is possible in a paralegal career because your working hours are around the standard office hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Whilst you may have a big workload and longer working days around large deadlines, it’s usually possible to maintain this working pattern and have a good work-life balance. The working environment can be lively and encourage hard work which helps you keep on top of your work, further increasing your job satisfaction and the enjoyability of being in the office.
Here are the typical employers that you could work for as a paralegal:
- Legal secretary
- Chartered legal executive