Paralegaling is sometimes a way of earning money to pay for the LPC, or to gain legal experience. More recently, it has become a popular choice for LPC graduates whilst they look for a training contract.
This page provides information to junior lawyers who are considering working as a paralegal. Please note that it is intended to provide guidance only. The JLD recommends that individuals obtain independent legal advice from a qualified solicitor should any legal problems arise.
Working as a paralegal
Paralegals are fee earners who are not admitted to the roll of solicitors and who are therefore not full members of the Law Society. Those undertaking the LPC, or who have recently completed the LPC will however be student members of the Law Society.
The range of work undertaken by paralegals differs vastly, from those offering simple case support to career paralegals who conduct their own case load.
Paralegalling is also sometimes seen as an alternate way into the legal profession. Some become paralegals in the hope that their employer will be happy enough with their performance to offer a training contract. Other practice includes working as a paralegal during a probationary period mandated by the firm, prior to actually being offered a training contract itself, although this is rare at the larger city firms.
At this time, no regulations or guidelines exist to regulate this activity. Even if you are working as a paralegal with the aim of obtaining a training contract, you will not have the protection of the Training Contract Regulations. As such, there are no minimum salaries, nor are there are guidelines as to the level of work or supervision to be provided. Nor does the probationary period mean that there will be a Training Contract waiting for you.
The JLD Helpline receives regular calls from people who have been offered a position as a paralegal within a firm with a view to commencing a training contract, similar to a test period.
Whilst this happens regularly, and many firms view it as a way to assess the skills and experience of the would-be trainee, it does often mean that you can be laid off once the requisite time period has expired or once a particular case has concluded.
Questions to consider
Are you looking for a training contract?
If so, is the paralegal position being offered with a view to becoming a training contract in the future? Have you been given any assurances to this effect? Always check! Also check with the Solicitors Regulation Authority that the firm in question is authorised to take trainees.
If your ultimate aim is to secure a training contract at the earliest possible time and the firm has made it clear that this is unlikely, consider whether you would be willing to accept the role to gain more experience whilst you assess the market and potential options further.
If you accept the position, do not stop your hunt for a training contract, and use your forthcoming paralegal experience as a selling point.
Will the firm allow you to use your paralegal experience to count towards a future training contract?
If you have worked as a paralegal carrying out legal work, and you secure a training contract, you can apply to your firm to have your paralegal experience counted towards your training contract. This will need to be both confirmed by the firm in which you undertook the work and accepted by any firm you join as a trainee.
You can recover up to half of the time you have worked, up to a maximum period of 6 months; (e.g. a six-month period would count for three months of your training contract, etc.)
Time can only be counted if the experience was gained within a period three years prior to your application.
Can you negotiate your salary with the firm?
When offered a paralegalling job do discuss an appropriate salary level with the firm you are joining. It may be that they are willing to pay you the minimum salary for trainees, as applicable in that area. If you don’t try, you won’t know!
Will you be offered adequate protection?
Aim for clear ground rules with the firm and ensure that you are given an appropriate supervisor who you are able to contact whenever required. Do not feel that the work you are undertaking is less important than a trainee – often paralegals handle the same work as trainee solicitors and are given wide-ranging responsibilities. In order to protect your position; make sure you seek guidance from a senior figure when needed.
What if your firm doesn’t honour the promise of a training contract?
You should get any promises in writing and up-front when you accept a position, for example that the firm has agreed to offer you work as a trainee, pending completion of a stated probationary period as a paralegal. Without a written contract, dated and signed by both parties, it is difficult to force a firm to meet any spoken assurance that may have been made. Don’t simply accept oral confirmation of any terms.
If this problem arises and you don’t have a contract try talking to the firm and explaining your position. If they value your work, they may be willing to make an exception. If not, try to get this period to count as time towards your training contract.
What is the shelf life of your LLB/GDL and LPC?
A Certificate of Completion of the LLB/GDL is valid for seven years, although the SRA does have the ability to exercise some discretion in exceptional circumstances. Your LPC will not expire.
If you have any specific questions about the validity of your academic qualifications we recommend that you contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
If you are experiencing any problems in the workplace, you can call the JLD Helpline 08000 856 131 for confidential advice and support.
Should you find yourself facing an ethical dilemma or bad practice within a firm, please do contact the Professional Ethics Helpline on 0870 606 2577 to raise the issue and to avoid recurrence. The SRA is keen to stamp out malpractice and all queries will be dealt with confidentially.