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Could working as a paralegal help me become a solicitor?

updated on 14 July 2022

Dear Oracle

I know that competition for training contracts is high, but I’ve also noticed that there seem to be increasing opportunities for paralegals: would becoming a paralegal be a more certain way of pursuing a career as a solicitor?

The Oracle replies

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Paralegal opportunities have certainly increased in recent years, with both law firms and other companies heavily relying on them to take up the administrative duties traditionally done by solicitors. The term ‘paralegal’ is used to describe many different legal professional roles within both law firms and other organisations. Different types of organisations employ paralegals in various roles, sometimes under a title such as ‘contracts manager’ or ‘legal officer’. It’s also possible to do many kinds of legal work, sometimes quite specialist and technical, without having qualified as a solicitor.

Working as a paralegal is a good way to build up the crucial work experience you need to secure a training contract. In the past it was possible for someone who had passed the Legal Practice Course to use the experience they had gained as a paralegal to qualify as a solicitor without having to secure a training contract at all – this was known as the ‘equivalent means’ route. However, with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021, only those who meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s transitional arrangements can qualify this way. Otherwise, you’ll need to complete the SQE.

Working as a paralegal has become an even more common part of the journey to qualifying as a solicitor with the introduction of the SQE. Under the SQE, there are four requirements that a candidate must meet to qualify as a solicitor, including the completion of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE). This QWE requirement can be completed in up to four different placements/jobs, including paralegal work.

Find out what other type of work counts as QWE in this Oracle.

However, many paralegal roles can be narrow in scope and will not involve the entire range of skills you need to qualify as a solicitor through SQE so it’s key that you consider this when building up your QWE. Another option for those who haven’t yet made the choice between going to university and doing something else is the paralegal apprenticeship, which involves formal qualifications that can also lead to qualifying as a legal executive. Candidates can then progress to the solicitor apprenticeship in order to eventually qualify as a solicitor. In addition, CILEX has recently introduced the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) which enables students without university degrees to qualify as a CILEX lawyer, CILEX advanced paralegal or CILEX paralegal.

Working as a paralegal is an important stepping stone on the route to qualifying as a solicitor, but it’s not guaranteed, and aspiring lawyers should be mindful of the specific work experience requirements for qualifying through SQE or equivalent means. Ultimately, if no training contract is immediately available to you, it makes sense to ‘get your foot in the door’ and gain experience while you apply.

If you’d like further information on what being a paralegal entails and various routes, read LCN’s guide to paralegal work.

Current paralegal opportunities can be found on LawCareers.Net's jobs page.