updated on 16 February 2021
I know that competition for training contracts is very high, but I have 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?
Paralegal opportunities have certainly increased in recent years, with both law firms and other companies heavily relying on them to take up much of the workload traditionally done by solicitors. The term ‘paralegal’ is used to describe many different legal professional roles within both law firms and other organisations. Many different types of organisation employ paralegals in various roles, although they may have a title such as ‘contracts manager’ or ‘legal officer’. It is also possible to do many different kinds of legal work, sometimes quite specialist and technical, without having qualified as a solicitor.
Working as a paralegal can be a good way to build up the crucial legal work experience you need to secure a training contract. Just as importantly, it is possible for someone who has passed the LPC to use the experience they gain as a paralegal to qualify as a solicitor without having to secure a training contract at all – this is known as the ‘equivalent means’ route. Working as a paralegal may become an even more common part of the journey to qualifying as a solicitor once the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is introduced in September 2021. Under the SQE, a candidate must complete two years’ qualifying work experience (and pass the SQE assessments) to qualify as a solicitor. This work experience requirement can be completed in up to four different placements/jobs, including paralegal work.
However, a word of warning – 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 or the equivalent means route. It also remains to be seen what effect equivalent means will have on firms and the number of solicitors they employ, given that the reason many firms rely on paralegals so heavily is that paralegals are cheaper to employ and so are the preferred choice for firms looking to protect their profits in the face of clients’ demands for low fees.
Another option for those who have not 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.
Working as a paralegal is an increasingly important stepping stone on the route to becoming a solicitor, but it is not guaranteed and future 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.