updated on 13 September 2019
Find out more on our dedicated 'Paralegal' page.
Paralegals work in law firms, but are not qualified as solicitors or chartered legal executives. Although paralegals used to be seen purely as support staff, the role of paralegal has moved beyond just assisting solicitors. Paralegals are becoming a distinct group of legal professionals in their own right, although this kind of role is often still used as a stepping stone to becoming a solicitor or chartered legal executive.
Some paralegals’ roles are often little different from those of solicitors. This means that you can apply to qualify as a solicitor while working as a paralegal, provided that you can satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority that you have gained the same knowledge and skills in your role as you would have through a training contract. This is called the ‘equivalent means’ route to qualifying. The first paralegals qualified as solicitors this way in 2015.
Another common reason why many graduates work as paralegals is that this is a good way to gain the crucial legal work experience needed to get a training contract. Some paralegals gain experience and then apply for a training contract at the same firm, while others move on from firms where this is not an option and go on to apply successfully elsewhere.
However, a note of caution: paralegals perform many of the same tasks as solicitors, but are generally not paid as much and there is not the same clear career progression that solicitors can pursue. Be careful and stay mindful of your prospects for career progression.
‘Equivalent means’ offers new path to qualification
It is possible to use experience gained in a paralegal role to qualify as a solicitor, as long as you have a university degree and have completed the LPC. In 2015 Shaun Lawler was one of the first solicitors to qualify in this new way. He says: “If people have the necessary qualifications and experience, then they should be able to qualify as solicitors without needing a law firm's say so. Paralegal work effectively got my foot in the door of the legal profession. I moved away from home to London and applied for a few different paralegal roles with the aim of getting some experience while completing the LPC. Working and studying at the same time was hard, but it definitely gave me the experience that I needed to move forward, without which I would have found it much harder to pursue qualification as a solicitor."