updated on 19 August 2021
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 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 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, but this route could become much more common from September 2021 onwards, when the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is introduced as the final assessment before qualifying for all candidates, whether they have taken the traditional route, an apprenticeship, or the paralegal route. Find out more about the SQE via LCN's SQE Hub.
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’ and SQE offer alternative path to qualification
Experience gained in a paralegal role can be recognised as qualifying work experience (QWE), with two years’ worth needed to qualify as a solicitor. Candidates qualifying through the equivalent means route currently need a university degree and the LPC, but from September 2021, candidates will be able to take the SQE instead of the LPC. The two years’ QWE needed to qualify as a solicitor through both the equivalent means and SQE routes can be completed in up to four different roles and placements.
Shaun Lawler was one of the first solicitors to qualify through equivalent means in 2015. 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.”