A training contract isn't the only way to use your law degree! Many students become paralegals to use and develop their legal knowledge. This can be a stepping stone onto a training contract, an opportunity to see whether law is for you, or a great way to earn money immediately after your law degree without further study or training. Several of my uni friends and LPC course mates have paralegalling experience, but I knew very little of what the role looked like before seeing paralegals in action alongside associates, trainees and partners on my vacation scheme. If you're currently studying a law degree, GDL or LPC, paralegal roles are well within your reach, and I'd encourage you to be aware of them and consider whether paralegalling could be for you. To help build up your repertoire of knowing what options there are post-legal studies, here's an insight from a friend on her experience of being a paralegal and what you need to know...
Jihanna Allard studied law at the University of Sheffield and now works in Leeds as a paralegal with Wrigley’s solicitors, in their property and charity departments.
What is a paralegal?
It is difficult to define what a paralegal is as I feel it really varies depending on the firm and department you are in. However, in general, paralegals are legal professionals who provide support to solicitors and barristers.
How did you come to be a paralegal?
I graduated from the University of Sheffield with an LLB law degree. I applied for paralegal roles as I felt I needed a break from education so didn't want to start my LPC straight after graduating from my undergrad. Furthermore, I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to pursue a career as a solicitor so wanted to gain experience in a legal working environment.
What practice areas and kind of law do/did you work in?
I primarily work in the property department which involves tasks such as assisting the fee earners with applications to register properties at the land registry, carrying out due diligence conveyancing searches, dealing with Stamp Duty Land Tax issues, carrying out research and drafting articles. I also do some work with the education team who work on helping schools who are converting to academy status which is interesting as it can raise some contentious and complex issues and has provided several opportunities to meet with clients.
What does/did a typical day in the life of a paralegal look like for you?
This is very hard to say! As a paralegal (probably similar to a trainee solicitor), you are not in control of your workload so it can be hard to stick to a list of tasks that you aim to get done on a given day. This means that you never know what work you’ll end up doing on a particular day. This took me a while to adapt to because whilst at university, I was very much in control of what work I did and when. However, I am much more used to it now and quite enjoy the variety!
I often have a few meetings a week with the property team. The property team meet quite regularly for various meetings which I quite like and they get the paralegals and trainees very involved. I also usually have a training session each week - this might be delivered by an internal or external speaker or it is sometimes online. I find this very beneficial and feel it has helped to build on my knowledge gained from my law degree.
How does the role of a paralegal differ from that of a trainee solicitor?
I think in many ways they are fairly similar as I work quite closely with the trainees. However, obviously trainees move departments, whereas this is rare for a paralegal.
Both paralegals and trainees are not in control of their workloads and can sometimes get some quite repetitive tasks but I think in general, trainees have more responsibility than paralegals. For example, trainees at the firm I'm at have a lot more client contact time than paralegals.
What are some of the skills you’ve learned from being a paralegal?
Professional skills - interacting with colleagues and clients. This is largely because this is my first full time job so I had lots to learn (i.e remaining professional when you are getting used to the long working hours and are really tired!).
Organisation and time management - as a paralegal, it can be hard to prioritise tasks as you are getting them from several different solicitors and all have slightly different deadlines etc! However, I have learnt that it is important to always let the fee earner know how busy you are and if you can realistically meet the deadline and if not, you can find a new deadline or it can be delegated.
Have you used your law degree/GDL in your role as a paralegal?
Yes! Having basic property law knowledge is essential for my role. Not only for tasks I carry out everyday but also in terms of the training we are given. I really feel I can learn from the training we are provided as I have a basic understanding. I think if I hadn’t done a law degree, I would most likely feel very out of my depth in the training.
What are the best bits of being a paralegal?
One of my favourite things about being a paralegal is that you get to interact and work with most people in your team (in my case, the property team). This has meant that I have gotten to know people in the department quite well which has been nice.
The work is varied as you get to help all areas of the department - for example, commercial property team, residential team, school team, faith team etc. This has really widened my understanding of property law!
What are some of the challenges with being a paralegal?
You’re not in control of your workload. This can be frustrating when you are really busy and then you get another urgent task or a task turns into a much bigger task than anticipated. However, as long as you speak to the fee earners and explain you current capacity, they are normally understanding and so the workload is manageable.
The work can be repetitive and it can be hard to feel like what you are doing is having an impact. However, this is the nature of the role as you are supporting the fee earners so take on all kinds of tasks!
What are the opportunities which come with being a paralegal?
Valuable experience to put on your CV and fantastic opportunity to network!
You also get first hand experience of life as a trainee as I work closely with the trainees. It is a good chance to confirm (or not) if you want to be a solicitor and to ask trainees about the application process for a training contract.
How would someone interested find opportunities and look for a job as a paralegal?
Most jobsites have loads of paralegal roles but I found mine actually going on the firm's website. I feel by looking at the website, you really choose a firm with values that you share. However, they go very quickly so you have to be on top of it.
What would your advice be to someone thinking about paralegal-ing?
I’d say the main piece of advice is to consider why you are going to paralegal (i.e for experience, to help fund a part time LPC, to further an interest in a particular area of law etc) and then really think carefully about what area of law you paralegal in. Also, looking for firms that offer further opportunities (i.e training contracts etc) that you are interested in might be a good idea.