The term ‘paralegal’ refers to a person who does a substantial amount of legal work as part of his or her job and may have some legal training or experience, but is not a qualified lawyer. Paralegals work in law firms, as well as in-house in a wide variety of other private and public sector organisations, and often have very different job titles.
Duties vary considerably, but typically include administrative tasks such as researching information and drafting documents, interviewing clients and witnesses, and appearing in court. They often act on behalf of lawyers, specialising in a particular area of law.
Paralegals normally work 37 hours a week, although longer hours are quite common in some solicitors’ firms and in more senior positions. They are mainly based in offices, but some occasional local travelling may be necessary if they deal directly with clients.
Starting salaries can be between £10,000 and £25,000 a year. With experience this can rise to up to £40,000 a year.
Top salaries in large law firms can reach £70,000 a year.
A paralegal should:
· be discreet with confidential information
· be patient and understanding
· pay careful attention to detail
· be tactful and sympathetic
· communicate well with clients
· have good standards of English and computer literacy
· have good concentration and memory
· work well under pressure
There are around 500,000 paralegals in the UK, with around 150,000 working for law firms. They may work in a wide variety of other areas, including the National Offender Management Service, central and local government departments, charitable bodies such as Citizens Advice, the uniformed services and large companies in commerce and industry.
There are no specific entry requirements, but many employers will prefer applicants with some qualifications. Some employers specify an HND or degree in law or legal studies or the postgraduate legal practice course (LPC). The more senior or specialised the position, the more likely it is that legal qualifications will be expected. Those with some relevant experience, either voluntary or paid, may have an advantage.
Most paralegals train on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. In addition, many employers will encourage their paralegals to take relevant courses that involve formal legal training. There is a degree-level qualification that gives recognition as a qualified paralegal.
Many paralegals move on to more responsible posts within their specialism or take on supervisory responsibilities. Some decide to study for professional qualifications in law.