A career as a paralegal may suit you if you thrive under pressure, have good analytical and communications skills and a strong interest in the law
Paralegals provide support to solicitors and barristers in a variety of law firms, chambers and in private, public sector and not-for-profit organisations. They play an important role within a legal team and their tasks often mirror the work of a trainee - or at times even a recently qualified solicitor.
Job titles can vary depending on the organisation and legal practice area and you may see roles advertised seeking clerks, legal executives, legal assistants or caseworkers. Depending on the role, paralegals can be involved with a range of tasks and activities; some are specialists in their field while others carry out non-legal tasks or have less status.
Types of paralegal work
Areas of specialisation include:
- contracts/dispute resolution
- personal injury
- wills, probate and administration of estates.
As a paralegal, you'll need to:
- carry out office administration, including billing and writing letters
- organise diaries, schedule meetings and respond to telephone queries
- write first document drafts and proofread documents
- analyse and input data, write articles for internal or external circulation
- organise case files, attend court inquests, transcribe legal opinion and compile litigation bundles
- network with clients and build valuable relationships
- write reports, conduct legal research, take witness statements and attend meetings with experts or claimants - usually the duties of a more experienced paralegal.
- Salaries for junior paralegals at non-graduate entry level, range from £14,000 to £22,000. At graduate-entry level, salaries range from £18,000 to £25,000.
- A paralegal with three to five years' experience can expect a salary in the region of £25,000 to £40,000 in London and £20,000 to £25,000 outside of London.
- Experienced senior paralegals can earn £40,000+.
Salaries can vary quite a bit depending on your experience, the size of the firm, the area of law you are working in (commercial, family, immigration, property) and geographic location. Pay is generally higher in large cities compared with regional law firms and high street firms.
If you are based in Scotland, please see the Scottish Paralegal Association website for relevant information.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours depend on the role and nature of work. Your official working hours may be between 9am and 5pm, however, you will be expected to work longer hours during busy periods.
Working for an in-house legal team or public sector organisation could mean more stable working hours. If you are working for a recruitment agency it's important to check the working hours and find out if overtime hours are paid additionally.
What to expect
- Most of the work is office based, although you may assist in preparation for court cases or attend meetings with clients at off-site locations.
- Competition for paralegal roles in commercial firms can be fierce as many Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates seek paralegal experience while looking for a training contract or pupillage.
- Some students secure part-time paralegal roles, alongside their law degree or postgraduate legal studies - this is an excellent way to gain valuable legal experience.
- Variation and intensity of work can depend on the firm, the size of the team you are supporting and how many paralegals are working in the team.
Although there are no fixed entry requirements, good GCSE and A-level grades will make you more attractive to employers. If you're interested in training while working, you could consider the CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) route, or other qualifications offered by the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).
Law firms are increasingly recruiting paralegals. Some firms and organisations prefer candidates who have completed a law degree or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or LPC. According to a survey published in 2016 by Lawyer2B, 86% of paralegals have a degree qualification.
A paralegal role can be offered for up to six months to a year (often called 'temp paralegal' role) and is likely to be your first position. Once established in your role as a paralegal, you may develop your expertise and specialist knowledge and aim for permanent paralegal roles, often described as a 'career paralegal'.
You will need to have:
- excellent written and verbal communication skills
- the ability to manage multiple tasks or caseloads
- good attention to detail to be able to carefully analyse files and data
- legal research skills and the desire to develop your understanding of the law
- the ability to work well under pressure and to tight deadlines
- office administrative skills for tasks such as filing, typing and letter writing
- good teamwork skills particularly when working with other departments to complete your tasks
- flexibility and adaptability in your attitude and approach to work
- business acumen and an understanding of the clients' needs
- professionalism when working with colleagues, senior partners, experts and clients
- legal database certifications such as LexisNexis or Westlaw are very useful
- additional language skills - not essential but would be an advantage if working for high street law firms in areas with a high percentage of ethnic minorities, such as Bengali, Hindi, and Chinese.
The legal sector is very competitive, so it's essential that you demonstrate your motivation for working in law. Attend law firm or organisation 'insight' events or open days and consider court marshalling or attending court hearings as a member of the public to develop your understanding.
Try to gain some experience in an office environment before you apply, to build your confidence and develop administrative skills. You can gain relevant work experience through work shadowing opportunities, work experience or internships. Legal work experience such as pro bono work or volunteering at Citizen's Advice Centres or local charities is greatly valued.
Diverse community experience such as working with young people, or the elderly is highly valued, if you are applying to law firms specialising in housing, family, or immigration for example.
Paralegal roles are available throughout the UK. Your employer may vary between niche/mid-sized firms, to large commercial law firms and in-house legal teams.
If you're interested in working in the public sector, you could consider the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Metropolitan Police and local and national governments. If you want to work for a commercial law firm, most of these will be located in the city of London, or in large cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin, Leeds and Manchester.
Find out more about top UK law firms.
New opportunities may arise as a result of changes within the legal industry; see the Law Society for information about alternative business structures.
Look for job vacancies at:
Try registering with a specialist recruitment agency, such as:
Many of the smaller high street and mid-size firms request a CV and a covering letter; larger law firms expect a detailed application form and some use assessment centres to select candidates. It is worth writing a speculative application to potential employers as many roles are not formally advertised. See information and advice on CVs and cover letters.
The Institute of Paralegals (IOP) offers a recognised qualification route, which allows you to progress through different stages based on your experience and skills. If you're considering the paralegal route to eventually qualify as a solicitor, it's important to be aware that qualification routes are changing. The changes are being made in order to increase diversity in the legal sector and make a legal career more accessible.
There will be more opportunities to pursue apprenticeships at different levels, including graduate apprenticeships which allow you to study a degree while working for a law firm. You may be keen to develop your knowledge through further courses or attendance at annual paralegal conferences organised by the IOP or NALP.
Recently some commercial law firms launched 'paralegal apprenticeships.' You can find more information on these from the Institute of Paralegals or individual law firm websites. Discover more about legal apprenticeships.
You may continue to develop in your role or build your expertise in a particular area of law and work towards a senior paralegal position. Some paralegals pursue training to qualify as a solicitor or pupillage and the experience gained may contribute to the period of recognised training or qualification. You can find further information on the websites of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and The Bar Council.
Networking will provide you with useful contacts and open up opportunities, increasing your chances of success in your legal career.