As a paralegal, you'll carry out certain legal tasks and services, such as undertaking legal research, preparing legal documents and giving some legal advice

Although you will have received some form of training, you are not a qualified solicitor, barrister, chartered legal executive or licenced conveyancer.

You may work for a firm of solicitors, a paralegal law firm, a set of chambers, in the private and public sector, within government or industry for example, or for not-for-profit organisations and charities.

Job titles can vary according to the organisation you work for, your experience and legal practice area. You may see roles advertised as caseworker, compliance officer, contracts manager, legal secretary, volunteer adviser or legal assistant, for example.

Types of paralegal work

Areas of specialisation include:

  • advocacy and mediation
  • commercial, corporate and business law
  • consumer law
  • contracts/dispute resolution
  • conveyancing and property
  • crime
  • debt recovery and mortgage repossessions
  • employment law
  • litigation (criminal and civil)
  • matrimonial and family law
  • personal injury
  • wills, probate and administration of estates.

Responsibilities

Your work activities will depend on your experience and level of specialism, as well as the type of employer you work for.

As a paralegal, you'll typically need to:

  • carry out office administration, including billing and writing letters
  • organise diaries, schedule meetings and respond to telephone queries
  • write first document drafts, such as contracts, and proofread documents
  • conduct legal research
  • analyse and input legal data
  • write articles for internal or external circulation
  • organise case files, attend court inquests and tribunals, transcribe legal opinion and compile litigation bundles
  • file documents at court
  • network with clients and build valuable relationships
  • negotiate contracts and legal documents
  • complete official documentation and write reports on cases
  • take witness statements
  • attend meetings with experts or claimants.

Salary

  • Salaries for junior paralegals at non-graduate entry level typically range from £14,000 to £22,000. At graduate-entry level, salaries range from around £18,000 to £25,000
  • A paralegal with three to five years' experience can expect a salary in the region of £30,000 to £40,000. Pay is highest in large cities, compared with regional law firms and high street firms
  • It's possible for an experienced paralegal to earn up to £55,000, and in very rare cases up to £70,000.

Salaries can vary depending on your experience and level of responsibility, the size and type of employer you work for, the area of law you work in (e.g., commercial, family, immigration, property) and location. Salaries in London, for example, are higher than in the rest of the UK. Compliance paralegals in the financial sector are among the best paid.

If you're based in Scotland, see the Scottish Paralegal Association website for relevant information.

Income data from the Institute of Paralegals. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours depend on the role and nature of work. Your official working hours may be between 9am and 5pm. However, you'll 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're working for a recruitment agency it's important to check the working hours and find out if overtime hours are paid additionally.

Jobs are available either full or part time.

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 law graduates wanting to become a solicitor or barrister seek paralegal experience.
  • 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.
  • The role varies widely depending on your practice area. For example, if you're working in conveyancing you're not likely to have much face-to-face contact with clients. However, if you undertake criminal work, you'll need to attend court, police stations and talk to suspects.
  • 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.

Qualifications

There are no fixed entry requirements, although good GCSE and A-level grades will make you more attractive to employers. It's possible to start in an entry-level role and work your way up via training on the job. Employers value a mix of work experience and personal qualities.

Some employers, for example solicitors' firms, will prefer to recruit law graduates. Competition for these roles is particularly fierce as many law graduates look for work as a paralegal as part of their route to qualification as a solicitor or barrister.

Having legal or paralegal training is useful due to the level of competition for roles. The National Association of Licensed Paralegals, for example, offers paralegal qualifications, ranging from entry-level courses through to a postgraduate-level diploma.

There is a range of legal training courses available so make sure you do your research to find a course appropriate to your career aims. Search the list of training providers approved by the Institute of Paralegals.

It's also possible to complete a level 3 paralegal apprenticeship, where you combine part-time study and paid work. Find an apprenticeship for opportunities.

You can also to move into paralegal work from other related occupations such as legal secretary.

Skills

You'll 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
  • time management skills and 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
  • negotiation skills in order to negotiate with clients
  • a flexible and adaptable approach to your work
  • business acumen and an understanding of the clients' needs
  • professionalism when working with colleagues, senior partners, experts and clients
  • general IT skills and knowledge of legal database certifications such as LexisNexis or Westlaw.

Work experience

It's advisable to complete at least six months' work experience carrying out legal work before applying for a paralegal position.

The legal sector is very competitive, so it's essential to 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.

Legal work experience, such as pro bono work, work placements 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, can also be helpful - especially if you're applying to law firms specialising in housing, family or immigration, for example.

Make sure your experience is relevant to the area of law you want to work in.

Employers

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.

Most commercial law firms are located in London, or in large cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin, Leeds and Manchester. Find out more about top UK law firms.

Typical employers include:

  • solicitors' firms - one in three paralegals work in solicitors' firms (IoP)
  • public sector in areas such as trading standards, parking prosecution, benefit fraud prevention and estates management
  • local and national government
  • the NHS
  • the military
  • commercial companies
  • industry
  • the not-for-profit sector
  • charities.

With experience, it's possible to work freelance or as a sole trader, or to own a paralegal practice.

Look for job vacancies at:

Try registering with a specialist recruitment agency, such as:

Professional development

You'll need to keep your skills and knowledge of the law up to date through continuing professional development throughout your career.

Membership of the Institute of Paralegals (IoP) is useful and provides access to news, networking opportunities, webinars, training, events and conferences.

The IoP has different levels of membership, ranging from student through to Fellow, and you can progress through the grades as you gain experience. Members of the IoP must undertake 10 hours of CPD per year (12 hours for Fellows) and are subject to a code of conduct.

There is no statutory regulation of paralegals. However, members of the IoP can join the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR), a voluntary regulatory scheme for paralegals in England and Wales. If you hold a Paralegal Practising Certificate, you are fully regulated by the PPR as a Professional Paralegal Practitioner in relation to all the services you're allowed to undertake.

Career prospects

You may continue to develop in your existing role or build expertise in a specific area of law and work towards a senior paralegal position with increased responsibility for your own work and the work of the team.

Networking will provide you with useful contacts and opportunities, increasing your chances of success in your legal career.

Some paralegals pursue further training to qualify as a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive. Experience as a paralegal may contribute to the period of recognised training or qualification.

Find out how Halimah became a paralegal apprentice at BBC Bitesize.

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