updated on 17 August 2022
Find out more on our dedicated 'Paralegal' page.
Paralegals work in law firms but aren’t qualified as solicitors or chartered legal executives. Although paralegals used to be seen purely as support staff, the role of a paralegal has moved beyond just assisting solicitors. Paralegals are 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 very similar to those of solicitors. This means that you can apply to qualify as a solicitor while working as a paralegal, provided you can satisfy the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that you’ve gained the same knowledge and skills in your role as you would have through a training contract. This was previously called the ‘equivalent means’ route to qualifying.
The first paralegals qualified as solicitors this way in 2015, but this route could become much more common following the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) and its qualifying work experience (QWE) requirement. Candidates can now build up two years’ QWE and qualify via the SQE whether they’ve taken the traditional route, an apprenticeship or the paralegal route.
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 isn’t 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 isn’t the same clear career progression that solicitors can pursue. Be careful and stay mindful of your prospects for career progression.
What do I need to know about the SQE?
You can visit LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law, to find out more about the SQE.