How to Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant
Want to work in law but don’t want to undertake the years of education required to be a solicitor or barrister? Then a paralegal role could be perfect for you.
In this article I’m going to be using the term paralegal and legal assistant interchangeably. I don’t know of any distinction between the two roles (in the UK anway!)
I’m hoping to answer a few basic questions you may have on being a paralegal. Let’s start with the most obvious question…
What is a paralegal?
A paralegal and legal assistant are people who usually work very closely with a solicitor or barrister assisting them with their day to day work and case load. They usually work within a law firm. However this is not always the case; they could be assisting solicitors and barristers within the CPS and Government. They are key members of legal teams and are sometimes referred to as “the glue of the legal sector“. Paralegals are estimated to be the largest group of professionals within the legal sector. (source)
What does a paralegal do?
Sometimes more experienced paralegals can undertake very similar work to fully qualified solicitors. These sort of paralegals are especially useful to a business which isn’t a law firm but engages in legal activities. For example people who have a good general understanding of the law may be needed within catering, trade, finance, construction etc.
Do you need a degree to become a paralegal?
The short answer is no; you don’t need any qualifications to become a paralegal or legal assistant. You don’t need to have completed the Legal Practice Course or any university study. Or even an A Level. However that doesn’t mean just anyone can be a paralegal. It’s a demanding job. However most firms will require you to have completed A levels.
If you want to work for a large commercial firm in London the requirements will be higher. For example Slaughter & May have the following requirements:
A legal background is necessary and most of our paralegals have either a Bachelor of Law or a Graduate Diploma in Law qualification together with the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Vocational Course (or overseas equivalent).
Herbert Smith require the following:
Successful candidates will be graduates who have completed the LPC. Previous experience is desirable but not essential.
So it all depends on who you’re applying to – how big is the firm? Just because there aren’t technically any minimum requirements doesn’t mean the job is easy to get into.
How do you become a legal assistant or paralegal?
Getting a job as a paralegal or legal assistant can be tricky depending on where you apply. For instance getting a job as a paralegal in a magic circle firm would be a real challenge indeed. For a standard paralegal job you should just apply like you would for any job. You need to show interest in the legal sector and be able to show good organisational and research skills. As stated above; degree may help but is certainly not necessary.
We believe the following list should be the minimum qualifications & skills needed to be a paralegal at entry level.
- A good set of GCSEs including Maths, English and ICT.
- Good computer knowledge.
- A basic understanding of the law, and knowledge of how a firm functions.
- Friendly and outgoing personality for when you deal with clients.
- Good writing skills and attention to detail
If you posses most of these qualifications you should be in with a good chance of getting a job as a paralegal. And once you’re working for a firm, it’s possible you could be trained up into a solicitor from your paralegal role.
See how much you can earn as a paralegal!