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LCN Says

From paralegal to solicitor

updated on 26 April 2024

Reading time: eight minutes

The path to a legal career often starts with a law degree. But what do you do then? Attempt to beat near Squid Game level odds to land a training contract with a law firm? Do you start with the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)? Do you go on to do a master’s degree? Do you start your legal career as a paralegal?

Paralegal as steppingstone

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.

Working as a paralegal offers invaluable opportunities to hone practical skills essential for a career in law. Paralegals often work closely with solicitors on a range of cases, gaining exposure to various areas of law such as family law, criminal law, corporate law, and litigation. This exposure not only enhances legal knowledge, but 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 (QWE) should you wish to go on to complete the SQE to qualify as a solicitor.

Transitioning from paralegal to solicitor

How you make the move from paralegal to solicitor depends very much on whether 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:

  • Apply to complete the LPC (if you meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) transitional arrangements). This can cost as much as £19,950 – the price of these courses, as with others, differs between training providers.
  • Qualify via the SQE. The SQE1 and SQE2 exams cost a total of £4,564 (this doesn’t include the preparation course cost, which vary depending on provider, course content, contact time and location, for example). The LPC will eventually be replaced by the SQE.

If you have a degree in another discipline then you’ll have to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE. This is likely to involve completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), which is a law conversion course and takes one year to complete. The price of this course varies between providers but can cost as much as £14,300. Candidates should then consider completing an SQE preparation course before sitting SQE1 and SQE2. There are also SQE preparation courses specifically designed for non-law students that incorporate elements of the conversion course.

While it’s no longer compulsory to take a conversion course as part of the SQE route to qualification, the SRA recommends it to ensure that you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of passing the assessments. That said, if you have a non-law degree (or equivalent Level 6 qualification), you can book to take the SQE assessments without completing one.

As part of the SQE route to qualification, two years’ QWE is also required. This can include any time you spent working as a paralegal as long as the work you did meets the SRA’s requirements.

You can read more about what counts as QWE and how to get it accredited via LawCareeers.Net’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law.

The final step is to pass the SRA’s character and suitability test before being admitted to the roll of solicitors.

If you intend to qualify as a solicitor, working as a paralegal is a fantastic way to build up QWE as well as develop your understanding for the assessments. Paralegal work also opens up a host of 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, choosing a career as a paralegal is a great option. And you won’t be restricted to work within the legal sector as 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 its 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.

Find out more about the glamorous sectors available to paralegals in this LCN Says.

Paralegal professionals fill a gap

With the virtual eradication of legal aid some 10 years ago, there’s an increasing requirement for consumers to gain access to justice at a reasonable cost. Paralegals can fill that gap simply because some solicitors don’t 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 requires advice on how to take an individual to court for breaching a contract.

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

Interested in a career as a paralegal? Read this guide for LawCareers.Net's advice.

Reserved activities and holding out

There are rules relating to what a paralegal can and cannot do. Reserved activities are those that are specified in The Legal Services Act 2007 and can be practised only by authorised individuals such as solicitors or barristers. Paralegals can’t undertake these activities.

There are two main reserved activities that affect paralegals.

The first is ‘conducting litigation’ which is something only solicitors can do. This effectively means that paralegals can’t act as agents for their clients; paralegals must not issue proceedings, receive or sign documents on behalf of clients, but they can assist clients to complete forms as long as all documents are signed and served by the clients themselves.

The second is that there’s no right of audience, meaning that a paralegal doesn’t have the automatic right to represent a client and address the court on a client’s behalf. Nor can they call or examine witnesses. However, there’s nothing preventing a paralegal requesting the judge to grant the right; however, this will be given only at the discretion of the judge, which may depend on the circumstances of the case. If not granted, the paralegal can assist the client to do this themselves.

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.

Although paralegals do much of the same work as solicitors, they must never claim or imply that they’re a solicitor. This is called ‘holding out’ and means that a paralegal must never suggest that they’re anything other than a paralegal practitioner. Even referring to themselves using the term ‘lawyer’ can be misunderstood by a consumer to mean ‘solicitor’ even though it may not be technically wrong to refer to themselves as such.


Working as a paralegal serves as a valuable steppingstone on the pathway to becoming a solicitor. Through hands-on experience, professional development and networking opportunities, paralegals gain the skills and insights necessary to excel in further legal studies and training. If this is a path you wish to pursue there are SQE prep courses that can be taken with education providers (eg, The University of Law, BARBRI or BPP) to help you to prepare for the SQE1 and 2 assessments.

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 local government to fashion, from football to property and charities to defence – there are countless opportunities waiting for you.

Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional. Follow the NALP on X (@NALP_UK), LinkedIn and Facebook