Paralegal my way into practice?

Dear Oracle

I know that it has become harder to secure a training contract these days, 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?

The Oracle replies

Friend of the Oracle, Nottingham Law School's Professor of Professional Legal Education Jane Ching, responds:

"Paralegals are, of course, not confined to law firms. They exist in other business entities and in other sectors - the job title might be 'contracts manager' or 'legal officer', for example. It is possible to do many different kinds of legal work, sometimes quite specialist and technical, without having completed a training contract. This could be working with solicitors, barristers, CILEx, foreign qualified lawyers; in a dedicated legal department or not. As alternative business structures emerge and the legal services sector opens out following the Legal Services Act 2007, good-quality legal work in different kinds of organisation may well be available outside the constraints of completing a training contract.

But for those who want to qualify as solicitors, there are two things to look out for. First, what you might call the 'really long interview'. We see more and more mid-sized firms reducing trainee recruitment, but increasing their number of paralegals. Once those paralegals have proved themselves within the organisation, they might then be offered support for a part-time LPC and/or training contract after a period of time. The other project to watch for is the Solicitors Regulation Authority's work-based learning pilot, which recently came to a close. If implemented in its current form, it would allow individuals to work towards qualification who are:

  • working in organisations which do not currently offer training contracts, but who are doing a sufficient range and quality of legal work;
  • have the support of their employers; and
  • can arrange to have a 'nominated solicitor' overseeing them.

So is becoming a paralegal a more certain way of becoming a solicitor? Not if you've been offered or can get a training contract. But if that isn't available to you, it makes sense to get your feet under the legal table by taking on paralegal work. If a training contract opportunity comes up - either at a firm you are with because you have proved yourself to them by hard work and commitment, or somewhere else - you will have very useful and relevant experience to build on."

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