Paralegals are law professionals working in a supporting, though fully-defined role, to solicitors and barristers. You'll need the ability to multitask and the desire to develop your understanding of law
As a paralegal, you may work in a variety of law firms, chambers and private, public sector and not-for-profit organisations. You'll play an important role within a legal team and your tasks will often mirror the work of a trainee - or at times even a recently qualified solicitor. The position is sometimes used as preparation for qualifying as a solicitor.
Job titles can vary according to the organisation and legal practice area, and you may see roles advertised as clerks, legal executives, legal assistants or caseworkers. The tasks and activities you deal with and the level of specialism and status required can also vary.
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 £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, the size of the firm, the area of law you're working in (commercial, family, immigration, property) and geographic location. Compliance paralegals 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 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.
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).
You can certainly become a paralegal without a degree, but with intense competition for positions some employers prefer to recruit those who have completed a law degree, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
However, apprenticeships (such as the Level Four Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services) are now offered as an alternative to the traditional graduate route into the paralegal profession. For more information, see The Law Society Apprenticeships and law apprenticeships.
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
- 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
- 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
- legal database certifications, such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, are very useful
- additional language skills - not essential but are an advantage if you're working for high street law firms in areas with a high percentage of ethnic minorities, such as Bengali, Hindi, and Chinese.
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 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.
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's 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, you can search for an apprenticeship training opportunity that allows you to become qualified while working for a law firm. You can use the government's Find an Apprenticeship site to search for opportunities, as well as those advertised by the professional bodies.
You can develop your knowledge through further courses or attendance at annual paralegal conferences organised by the IOP or NALP.
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.
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 Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and The Bar Council websites.
Networking will provide you with useful contacts and opportunities, increasing your chances of success in your legal career.
Find out how Halimah became a paralegal apprentice at BBC Bitesize.