• April 20, 2024
 Guest Post: Are Paralegals striving only toward becoming solicitors?

Guest Post: Are Paralegals striving only toward becoming solicitors?

By Amanda Hamilton, Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

Working as a paralegal offers invaluable opportunities to hone practical skills essential for a career in law, and for many, this is the path they take to becoming a solicitor.

Paralegals play a vital role in law firms, providing essential support to solicitors and barristers. Their responsibilities may include legal research, drafting documents, client communication, and assisting with case preparation. This hands-on experience allows aspiring solicitors to develop a deep understanding of legal procedures, case law, and client management, and gain experience of various areas of law such as family law, criminal law, corporate law, and litigation. This also cultivates skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and attention to detail.

As part of a legal team, paralegals have the chance to network with experienced professionals; building strong relationships with solicitors, barristers, and other legal professionals can open doors to career advancement.

And working as a paralegal can count towards your two years’ qualifying work experience should you wish to go on to do your SQE.

Transitioning from paralegal to solicitor

How you make the move from paralegal to solicitor depends very much on whether or not you have a qualifying law degree or a degree in another discipline (or equivalent, such as an Ofqual Level 6 qualification).

If you do have a qualifying law degree, then there are currently two routes to qualifying as a solicitor.

One: Apply to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which can cost between £12,000 – £17,000 depending on which training provider is offering it.

Two: Go through the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) which is far less costly. The SQE1 and SQE2 exams cost a total of just under £4,000 but the preparation for these two courses can cost up to £6,000, so approximately £10,000 in total (subject to any possible discounts being offered) It is hoped that the LPC will be replaced eventually by the SQE.

If you have a degree in another discipline, then the routes to qualifying are currently twofold also. Firstly, you could apply to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) which is a law conversion course and takes one year to complete. This costs between £7,000 – £13,000 and once completed you go on to do the LPC as above. The alternative is to go straight into the SQE1 and SQE2. Clearly the latter route is far less costly than completing the PGDL and LPC which in total can cost up to £30,000.

The next step is to complete two years’ qualifying experience which can include any time you have had working as a paralegal. The final step is to pass the SRA’s character and suitability test before being admitted on the role of solicitors.

If it is your intention to qualify as a solicitor, then working as a paralegal and gaining qualifying experience is just as essential as completing the SQE itself as it opens up options.

Paralegal as profession

Starting your legal career as a paralegal is a great way to gain experience while earning a living. During this time, if you decide that becoming a solicitor is not for you, but you’d still like to work within the law, then choosing a career as a paralegal is a great option.

With the virtual eradication of legal aid some ten years’ ago, there is an increasing requirement for consumers to gain access to justice at a reasonable cost. Paralegals can fill that gap simply because many solicitors will not wish to take on work at the ‘bottom’ end of the scale. Examples would be an individual who requires assistance to collect a ‘small claim’ debt or needs help to complete forms after someone has died, or even needs advice on how to take an individual to court for breaching a contract.

Without professional paralegals stepping in, the huge cost of solicitor fees would see many consumers having to resort to free advice and assistance offered by solicitors/barristers offering ‘pro-bono’ work or organisations such as Citizens’ Advice and others. A Paralegal Practitioner can offer assistance at approximately one tenth of the fees that a solicitor may charge for the same job. We are talking about the difference between paying £200-£500 per hour (depending on seniority, location in the UK, and nature of the case) which is definitely outside the scope of most consumers, compared with £20-£80 per hour which is what a paralegal may charge.

Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities in other sectors to use your paralegal skills. Most organisations will have an element of legality to what they do and will always have a need for someone with paralegal skills to assist them. For example, a few years’ ago Jimmy Choo Shoes advertised for a NALP qualified paralegal to work in their legal department. The possibilities of gaining a glam job are endless: working with a premiership football club, working with one of the big oil companies, working in retail or car manufacturing companies.

Reserved activities and holding out

Reserved activities are those that are specified in The Legal Services Act 2007 which can only be practised by authorised individuals such as solicitors or barristers. Paralegals cannot undertake these activities.

Conducting litigation is something that only solicitors can do. This means effectively that paralegals cannot act as agents for their clients. Paralegal also do not have the automatic right to represent a client and address the court on a client’s behalf. Nor can they call or examine witnesses. There are four other reserved activities: conveyancing, probate and notarial activities, and administration of oaths. Any paralegal practitioner should know and understand what these are and how they may possibly restrict their business.

It is important that paralegals avoid ‘holding out’ – they must never suggest that they are anything other than a paralegal practitioner. Even though it may not be technically wrong for paralegals to refer to themselves as a ‘lawyer’, this can be misunderstood by a consumer to mean ‘solicitor’. Paralegals must take care to be transparent regarding the services they offer and those they cannot.

Summary

By leveraging their paralegal experience, aspiring solicitors can navigate the journey toward qualification with confidence and determination, ultimately fulfilling their ambitions in the legal profession. If this is a path you wish to pursue there are SQE Prep courses that can be taken with an organisation such as BARBRI to help you prepare for both the SQE 1 & 2.

Alternatively, three years of paralegal work will count towards the relevant legal experience required to apply for a NALP Licence to Practise and you can set up on your own as a Professional Paralegal Practitioner (subject to evidence of competency in the areas in which you wish to practise and to gaining professional indemnity insurance). Or you can work in a variety of sectors as a paralegal, from charities to defence, from football to property, from local government to fashion. The opportunities are countless.

Eve Tawfick, Editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *