Working as a paralegal can be a very rewarding way of earning a living. It also offers flexibility in the way you work, career progression through the levels, and the opportunity to specialise in certain sectors (e.g. local government, property, family or criminal law etc.).
Plus, you can choose to work within an organisation or, if you have an entrepreneurial streak, then you can set up your own practice.
Where to Start?
If you already have experience, that’s a great place to start. If you don’t, or you feel that you could do with some additional training, then the most important element is to gain some knowledge of how the English Legal System works, especially the court system and hierarchy.
You may be thinking that you can’t afford to re-train, but there are some basic courses available that don’t cost the earth and will give you a solid foundation. For example, the NPC (National Paralegal College) runs a Paralegal Skills Course (which is CPD accredited) for £250.
This is specifically designed to teach you the practical skills needed to work as a freelance paralegal. While this is not a full qualification, it gives you the basic information you need to get started and includes 19 online tutorials. Once the course review test is completed successfully, you are emailed a ‘Guide to Finding Work as a Freelance Paralegal’.
If a qualification is what you’re after, then the NALP Level 3 Award is what you need. This covers all the basic areas of academic law including, English Legal System, Contract Law, Law of Tort and a choice of another legal topic.
The cost is £450 and is a fully nationally recognised qualification. You may decide to do both of these courses which complement each other and gives you all you need to work as a freelance. But this is, of course, subject to your financial means.
What if you Already Have a Legal/Paralegal Qualification?
If you have already gained a paralegal or general legal qualification and were made redundant during lockdown or never quite made it to the job market before lockdown, then the world is your oyster! You just need to box a little clever if you want a job.
Of course, working as a freelance is an option, but if you need to be employed then consider the following; you don’t just need to apply to work in a solicitors’ firm. All companies will have a legal element to what they do and will consequently have a legal department.
Choose a business that matches your interests, such as retail companies, sports organisations, car manufacturers, tech businesses or charities. There are so many options open to you as a paralegal.
This requires a little know-how and a lot of common sense. As a freelance paralegal, you offer your services to solicitors, barristers or in-house legal departments and are paid on an hourly, daily or weekly rate.
The benefit to a business (such as a firm of solicitors or barrister’s chambers or indeed in-house company legal departments) is that they don’t need to employ someone full time, they can agree hours to suit you and their needs, they can choose specialists for certain jobs or projects, and in some cases (depending on IR35) they aren’t responsible for your tax and national insurance as you will be self-employed.
Currently, it’s an excellent way for firms to get back on an even financial footing. And for you, the freelance paralegal, it offers truly flexible working.
Rule of Thumb
Don’t apply to any recruitment companies unless you know you fulfil their eligibility criteria. They will only turn you down and that can be soul destroying. Box clever by going directly to the law firms or companies. Social distancing allowing, visit firms as face-to-face contact is always the best option.
It will have much more impact than sending out your CV or emailing. I know it sounds old fashioned, but these days everyone (and I mean ‘everyone’) uses technology. Person to person contact seems to have gone out the window, so if you show initiative, such as physically visiting a firm or company, they will most definitely remember you!
I have a friend who got her first job in the industry by printing off CVs and physically knocking on the doors of her target firms. While standing in reception explaining to the receptionist what she was looking for, one of the Directors walked past, called her in for an interview on the spot and offered her the job there and then!
Hopefully, the information above will assist you in your chosen career as a paralegal. And, if you join NALP as a member, you will have access to all this and more, including a private 1-2-1 consultation about your chosen career path.
About the Author
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
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