updated on 03 August 2022
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Paralegals can undertake almost all the same activities as a solicitor, with a few exceptions known as ‘reserved activities’. The best way to get started is to complete an Ofqual recognised paralegal qualification. There are quite a variety on offer and the key to choosing the right one for you is working out why you want to enrol in such a qualification.
Curiosity, necessity or general interest
If it’s just basic legal information that’s sought, such as how laws are made and what laws are meant to do and how the English legal system works, then a Level 3 in Paralegal Practice qualification could be appropriate.
A level 3 is equivalent to an A level. There are three possibilities at level 3. A Level 3 Award in Paralegal Practice may be the best economic option. It’s only two units of study and doesn’t cost the earth. If further knowledge is required, such as how to draft a Will or gaining details on how the civil litigation process works, then a Level 3 Certificate in Paralegal Practice may be appropriate. This is two further units of study, so four in all. Finally, a Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal Practice is two further units of study – six in all.
This is a great way to gain general knowledge and help you understand your rights, it’s also a perfect beginner’s course for anyone seriously interested in progressing their law career.
Are you a beginner? Use LawCareers.Net’s Beginner’s Guide to a Career in Law to help you get started on your journey into the profession.
Enhancing current job knowledge and know-how, or changing careers
Some people find themselves in a role involving a legal element where their only credential is the experience of doing the job itself. At a certain point, you may therefore wish to bolster up your experience with particular knowledge of the law by completing a qualification. This will also benefit an employer as they would’ve relevantly qualified employees which adds to customer confidence.
A Level 3 Certificate in Paralegal Practice or a Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal Practice would suffice. However, if the employee is mature and has already gained qualifications at level 3 or above, a Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies would be appropriate. Unlike the level 3, there are 10 mandatory subject areas of law to study, so this is quite a commitment but a successful graduate would be able to describe themselves as a fully qualified paralegal.
A Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies would also be appropriate for someone who wishes to change careers. Conventional careers into the profession take time: qualification as a solicitor may take anything from four to six years, and to become a barrister it’s three to five years, depending on whether an individual has a law degree. The cost is also quite hefty taking into consideration the fees for a degree and postgraduate course fees. Whereas, qualifying as a paralegal will take approximately one year at a small percentage of those costs.
Forging out a career as a paralegal professional
Going straight from school to enrol on the Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies is the quickest way to get qualified in law. Then the next step is to get as much experience under your belt as you can and this may not just be with a solicitor.
It’s a fallacy that all paralegals work for solicitors. While many of them do, a substantial number don’t. Experience can be gained by working in companies, organisations or charities. In fact, most organisations and businesses have an element of legality to what they do, and paralegals fill those legal roles.
If you’ve already gained a law degree you may feel that you’ve already spent enough time and money and don’t wish to pursue qualification as a solicitor or barrister. If that’s the case, you can enrol on a Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice. This qualification bridges the gap between your academic law degree, and practice and procedural law and will qualify you as a paralegal.
Once enough relevant legal experience is gained and can be evidenced, an application can be made for a licence to practise. This is subject to attaining professional indemnity insurance and fulfilling other eligibility criteria. More information can be found on the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP website). nationalparalegals.co.uk
Amanda Hamilton is chief executive of the National Association of Licenced 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 Twitter (@NALP_UK), LinkedIn and Facebook.