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How to Become a Paralegal? A Beginners’ Guide

Are you looking for a career in law but don’t want to be a lawyer? You can enter the profession of law by becoming a paralegal. This article focuses on how to become a paralegal in the UK.

A paralegal is qualified through education, training, or both to assist lawyers in a legal matter. As a paralegal, you will be working alongside lawyers and solicitors, playing a crucial role in the legal system. So, stick to the blog to learn how to become a paralegal and find everything related to this profession.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Paralegal?

Paralegals are involved in a vast amount of legal work and can be found in both the public and private sectors. However, the daily tasks and responsibilities depend on the employer, location, area of expertise, and experience.

Stack of documents on a paralegal work desk

The primary duty of a paralegal is to support the legal team or lawyer in their work. Therefore, they are involved in various tasks related to the legal profession. Here’s a closer look at their responsibilities:

  • Interviewing clients and sharing relevant information
  • Taking witnesses statements
  • Researching cases if any relevant legal information needed
  • Presenting various types of applications to Judges
  • Helping Lawyers prepare for court cases
  • Organising case files and handling client caseloads
  • Drafting primary documents and letters for sale agreements, mortgages, etc.  
  • Administrative work such as organising diaries, scheduling meetings, responding to telephone queries and filing. 

What to Expect When I Start Working as a Paralegal?

A Paralegal’s daily tasks are crucial because they provide administrative help to lawyers and solicitors. Therefore, you will need to be highly professional when you start working as a paralegal. For instance, you always have to dress formally and use your interpersonal skills. The following things you may have to face when you apply or start looking for a job.

  • Most of the work is office-based but, sometimes, you may have to work outside the office. For instance, you have to attend meetings with clients at off-site locations.
  • The job market of paralegals is very competitive. It is because many law graduates who want to become a solicitor or barrister apply for a paralegal position to seek experience.
  • Also, sometimes law degree or postgraduate law students secure part-time paralegal roles to gain valuable legal experience.
  • The work you will be doing as a paralegal depends on your practice area. For example, if you work in the criminal field, you will need to attend court, visit police stations and talk to the clients.  
  • The workload and variation depending on the firm size, type, location, and the size of the legal team you are supporting. Also, the number of paralegals in the team determine how much the work pressure will be.

Is Becoming a Paralegal Right for Me?

It’s not easy to become a paralegal, and also, it isn’t for everyone. As a paralegal, you have to do a considerable number of daily duties and responsibilities. So, to become a paralegal, you will need incredible dedication and practical training. 

You will also need excellent law knowledge and computer skills along with other office skills. Also, you have to process and organise a vast amount of information daily. 

So, if organising files and documents is a daily struggle for you, you should not pursue this career. Find the answer to the below questions to find out if this profession is right for you:

    1. Can you handle the daily work pressure?

    2. Do you have the necessary skills to complete daily tasks?

    3. Are you able to handle the long working hours?

    4. Last but not least, is the salary enough for you?

If you think you are ok with everything mentioned above, then you should consider becoming a paralegal.

How to Become a Paralegal?

Becoming a paralegal

Academic Qualifications

Higher academic qualifications are not essential to become a paralegal. For example, you can start your career in an entry-level position and work your way up by training. The employer often looks for employees who have work experience in the law field and personal qualities. Although, you can get into this profession through the following:

  • University course
  • College course
  • Apprenticeship
  • Working towards this role.

University

In the UK, there are a lot of universities that provide courses related to the paralegal field. You could study for a foundation degree, higher national diploma (HND) or degree in law, legal studies, or paralegal practice in university.

However, it is very challenging to get selected for a university law degree course. Therefore, you will need good grades to study for a university course. The entry requirement for university courses is different from one another. You will usually need:

  • For a foundation degree or higher national diploma: 1 or 2 A-levels, or equivalent. 
  • For a law degree: 2 to 3 A-levels, or equivalent 

College

Another way you can become a paralegal is by taking a college course. The colleges also offer different types of courses that will help you to develop the necessary skills. The college courses include:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Legal Studies
  • Level 3 Legal Secretaries Diploma

The entry requirement for different college courses is different for level two and three courses. To enrol yourself in a college course, you will need:

  • For a level 2 course: 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent
  • For a level 3 course: 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent. 

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Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship programme is another alternative way to become a paralegal. An advanced paralegal apprenticeship will make it easier for you to get into this profession. 

To get an advanced apprenticeship, you will need 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including maths and English. 

Work Experience 

You can also become a paralegal by working toward this profession. First, find a job with a legal practice as an admin assistant. Working as an admin assistant can help you find out more about the profession. After that, you can take further training on this job and apply for this job.

You can find an entry-level job through the Institute of Paralegals and the National Association of Licenced Paralegals. However, you will need to have GCSEs or A-levels, including English.

Moreover, the paralegal job sector is very competitive because law graduates also apply for entry-level or trainee positions to gain experience in the legal field. Sometimes, employers also look for employees who have academic degrees along with legal field experience. 

So, by completing an internship, you will also have practical insights into this profession, such as duty, career opportunities. However, make sure that your experience is related to the law you want to work with.

Required Skills

Like any other office job, you will need some specific skills to work as a paralegal. Also, you will need a decent knowledge of laws and IT skills, and others. To work as a paralegal, you will also need:

  • Administration skills
  • Communication skills
  • Research skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Excellent written English
  • Time management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving 
  • Professionalism
  • Negotiation skills 
  • Desire to enhance your law knowledge.

What is the Salary of a Paralegal?

We have established an idea on how to become a paralegal in the UK, so let us discuss the salary in this profession. The average salary of a paralegal in the UK is £22,930 per year. However, the salary varies depending on your qualifications, responsibility, experience, employer, and job location. For example, the salaries of a paralegal in London are much higher than in the rest of the UK. 

Value of time concept

After graduating, you will most probably start working as a junior paralegal. The salaries of a graduate junior paralegal range from around £18,000 to £25,000. However, a non-graduate paralegal salary varies between £14,000 to £22,000. 

From this point, as your experience increases, your salary will increase too. For example, a paralegal with five-year experience makes around £30,000 to £40,000 per year. It is also possible for a paralegal to earn up to £55,000 per year.

Working Hours of a Paralegal

As a paralegal, you will be spending most of your days in an office environment. However, sometimes you may require going to court or attend other meetings with your employer. 

Office time on alarm clocks

There are many opportunities for you to work as a full time or part-time paralegal. Although, part-time positions are limited and only available in cities. The total working hour of a paralegal depends on the role and nature of work in the organisation.

A full-time paralegal usually works 37-40 hours a week from 9 am to 5 pm. Also, some firms will require you to work on a shift basis. Therefore, be prepared to work long hours during the busy period or to meet a deadline. 

Although, the working hours are more stable in an in-house legal team or public sector organisation than others. Also, you should ask your employer about working hours and overtime pay when applying for a paralegal job.

What are the Career Prospects of a Paralegal?

You might be wondering what would be your career development options if you decide to become a paralegal? 

What are the Career Prospects of a Paralegal

There are a lot of career opportunities in the legal industry. After getting a job as a junior paralegal, you can work in the same position or choose to enhance your career. You can become specialised in one area or also apply for a senior paralegal position.  The career path of a paralegal are- 

Junior Paralegal > Senior Paralegal > Solicitor or Lawyer.

Also, you will have access to valuable contacts and opportunities that will increase your chances of success in your legal career. For example, some paralegals take further training to qualify for a solicitor and a barrister position. You can also become a paralegal trainer or open a paralegal training academy. 

Moreover, paralegal work opportunities are available all over the UK. You can find jobs through both online and recruitment agencies. Look for job vacancies at:

Specialised Fields of a Paralegal

While all the paralegals play a similar role in the legal system supporting their employer, the daily duties and work environment varies greatly depending on your practice area. 

There are also many specialised areas of paralegals. As a paralegal, you can be specialised in one specific branch of the law. The specialised areas are-

  • Commercial, corporate and business law
  • Advocacy and mediation
  • Employment law
  • Litigation (criminal and civil)
  • Debt recovery and mortgage repossessions
  • Personal injury
  • Marital and family law
  • Consumer law
  • Contracts/dispute resolution
  • Conveyancing and property
  • Crime
  • Wills, probate and administration of estates.

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Top 5 Paralegal Jobs in the UK

In the UK, there are many specialised practice areas for paralegals. You may find the jobs under different names in the advertised agency and online. The salary and duties vary according to the different paralegal positions. The common paralegal jobs are:  

    1. Corporate paralegal

    2. Criminal law paralegal

    3. Family law paralegal

    4. Estate planning and probate paralegal

    5. Government paralegal

1. Corporate Paralegal

Corporate paralegals execute their work behind the scenes. They make sure businesses stay on their feet and don’t break any laws. As a result, the salaries of a corporate paralegal are higher than other paralegals. The average annual salary is £34,000 per year in London.

Group of paralegals in suits discussing contract together in office

As a corporate paralegal, you will be working for an organisation rather than a single client. So, you will rarely be interacting with the clients, courts, or the public. 

The corporate paralegal’s speciality is to review the contract, research the business law and look for incompetence. So, you will need excellent research skills, teamwork skills, and communication skills. You also need to be highly accurate and detailed when preparing contract paperwork.  

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2. Criminal Law Paralegal

A criminal law paralegal works in the area of criminal law. The average salary of criminal law paralegal is £23,000 per year. 

You can find criminal paralegal jobs in private defence firms and state agencies. In a private defence firm, you will be assisting your employer, who represents the accused clients. On the other hand, in state agencies, you will assist the lawyer in prosecuting charged people. 

The daily tasks of criminal law paralegals are the same as other paralegals. However, some daily tasks are different from other paralegals. The everyday duties of a criminal law paralegal include:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Communicating with probation officers
  • Making the necessary arrangements to post bail
  • Filing motions requesting a reduction in bond
  • Gathering discovery information regarding a case
  • Completing legwork to prepare for plea bargains or a change of plea
  • Writing motions.

3. Family Law Paralegal

Family law paralegal helps attorneys in representing clients in a custody dispute, adoption and divorce. As a family law paralegal, you must prepare an agreement contract and send them to opposing counsel. The other duties and responsibilities of family law paralegal are below:

  • Keep track of the attorneys’ schedules
  • Interview clients and witnesses
  • Research family and divorce law cases
  • Help the litigating attorney prepare for trial.

Smiling young family couple consulting with lawyer

Also, you have to execute other general paralegal duties such as organising the file, negotiating with clients, etc. Although, you will be spending most of your working hours corresponding with the clients. The clients are often emotionally distraught due to their family circumstances. As a result, you usually will have to show your empathy skills and support the clients. 

4. Estate Planning and Probate Paralegal

Paralegals who are experts in estate planning and probes usually work in a law firm or a court. In law firms, they generally work for lawyers who deal with estate planning. Below are the primary duties and responsibilities of a paralegal include:

  • Preparing probate forms
  • Talking with clients
  • Examining their financial situations
  • Preparing estate tax returns
  • Preparing drafts of wills, trusts, or related documents
  • Meeting with clients whose relative has died
  • Helping collect and liquidate the deceased’s assets
  • Assessing creditors’ claims

Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will documents with legal gavel

As an estate planning and probe paralegal, you will have to communicate with clients and notify them about the case progress. If necessary, you also have to assist them with the paperwork. So, you will need to have various skills to excel in this specialised career path. For example, excellent writing and communication skills will help you in managing estate taxes.

5. Government Paralegal

Many government agencies hire paralegals to support their legal team. As a paralegal, you will be working single or with a group of paralegals under the supervision of a government lawyer. Although, the duty and responsibilities will slightly vary depending on the agency and their work. The day-to-day task of a government paralegal are:

  • Helping lawyers prepare for court cases
  • Community outreach 
  • Researching cases
  • Presenting various types of applications to Judges
  • Organising case files
  • Drafting primary documents and letters
  • Administrative work such as organising diaries.

Also, the skills required for this job are the same as other paralegal jobs. Although, government paralegal positions are not always advertised under the paralegal section. They often listed this position as a legal secretary, but the duties and responsibilities are the same. So, you may not always find a job under the paralegal section when applying for this position. 

What is the Professional Development of a Paralegal?

As a paralegal, you will need to continuously keep your skills and knowledge of the law up to date. You can become a member of the Institute of Paralegals (IoP) by purchasing a package. They will provide you with access to the news, networking opportunities, training, webinars, events, and conferences. 

What is the Professional Development of a Paralegal

They offer different types of packages ranging from student to fellow. So, you can join them when studying for this profession and gain experience beforehand. Although, as a member of the IoP, you must complete a 10-hour CPD every year. If you are a fellow, you have to complete 12 hours of CPD every year.  

In the UK, there is no statutory regulation of paralegals. Although, as a member of the IoP, you can join the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR)

Who are the Employers of Paralegals?

You can find paralegal jobs with commercial law firms and in-house legal teams all over the UK. However, most commercial law firms are located in large cities such as London, Birmingham, etc. 

The solicitors’ firms are the leading employers of paralegals. According to research by IoP, one in three paralegals works in solicitors’ firms. The other employers of paralegals include:

  • The local and national government
  • The NHS
  • Public sectors
  • The military
  • Commercial companies
  • Not-for-profit organisations
  • Charities

Closing note

If you are looking for a career in law, then it is high time to fulfil your dream by becoming a paralegal. You can easily find a paralegal job in the UK after getting trained or acquiring an academic degree. Also, in future, you can specialise in one of the areas and earn a handsome salary. 

So, take a paralegal training course from CPD accredited platform like One Education, learn more about how to become a paralegal in the UK, and increase your chances of getting hired by an employer.

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One Education courses cover core competencies and skills across all subject areas, Taught by expert instructors, CPD Accredited courses, 24/7 support, Self-paced learning from any device.
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September 23, 2021

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