Law Graduates – How to Get Your First Job as a Lawyer by Being a Paralegal

by Five Fantastic Lawyers™ on November 22, 2012

The legal profession is not immune to the effects of the economic down turn, and times are just as hard for law graduates seeking employment as new hopefuls in any other sector. Working as a paralegal is an option that many consider in the hope that this will lead to a full time job as a lawyer in training.

Most firms prefer to recruit potential candidates for training contracts while they are still studying. Typically, the process starts two years before a training position is due to commence. Leaving full time education with a law degree in the back pocket and the Legal Practice Course completed but no job with a training contract attached to it can make the future look a little daunting. However, working as a paralegal may lead to the door being opened to opportunities for advancement.

What is a paralegal?

So what is a paralegal? The National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a not for profit company recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England), defines a paralegal as “A person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures and who is not a qualified solicitor or barrister. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector.”

An entry-level position

Many firms will take on a volume of paralegal staff at relatively low wages. There is rarely a guarantee that being a paralegal with a firm will result in a training contract being granted. Generally, there is likely to be a large number of paralegals chasing a small number of training contracts that, in any event, will be open to competition from external candidates as well.

Some firms actually insist that a candidate work for a specified period as a paralegal before competing for a training contract. This is not uncommon among legal aid practices, but aspiring lawyers may find this works to their advantage. In a firm like Bindmans, for example, a graduate is typically expected to work for 12 months as a paralegal at the start of his or her career. The majority are then considered likely to secure one of the six training contracts usually offered each year.

Being a paralegal may be regarded, with some cynicism, as being little better than doing nothing at all when in an ideal world it would be preferable to have a training contract. However, time as a paralegal does provide relevant experience that adds positive content to a CV.

NALP is promoting the professionalisation of paralegals. They say that: “The establishment of a specifically identifiable paralegal profession is important because of the increasing number of law graduates who are unable to obtain training contracts and/or afford the LPC.” To this end NALP offers a series of courses pitched at different levels depending on age, qualifications and previous experience.

Looking to the future, a source of hope for paralegals is the Legal Training and Education Review. This is a joint initiative of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards. It is understood to be considering making a recommendation that would allow paralegals to qualify directly as lawyers without having to undertake training contracts first. A final report is expected in early 2013.

This post was provided by John on behalf of BCL Legal. BCL Legal is specialist recruiter in the law jobs industry. 

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