In England and Wales, a person becomes a paralegal simply by being employed as one.
In order to facilitate a move to Bristol and in pursuit of an interesting role I could sink my teeth into to get my professional career started I began working as a Paralegal for a Legal 500 practice. Despite my initial interest in pursuing a career as a Solicitor I soon came to the realisation I was not destined for such a career.
A law degree is not a prerequisite to becoming a paralegal but, in my personal experience, it was the fact that I had not yet completed my GDL or completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) that proved to be my stumbling block.
Unquestionably, the pursuit of a legal training contract is highly competitive and applicants for paralegal vacancies come from all walks of life, including those who have self-funded the LPC or even self-funded both the GDL and the LPC.
It is highly desirous to be able to cite previous paralegal experience, usually spanning 6 to 12 months, but obtaining such experience in the first place is the difficulty as employers are naturally drawn to candidates with the relevant experience than those without. Whilst the competition to become a paralegal is not analogous with the limited training contract places that are available, the paralegal route is often seen as another point of entry into a law firm.
The fictional character Rachel Zane worked as a paralegal for half a decade until she could finally pass the LSAT, which was the incumbrance that stood in her way of achieving her goal of reading law at Harvard Law School. This would pave the way for her to work as an associate at Pearson Specter Litt, which exclusively recruited from Harvard Law School.
The rationale of working as a paralegal at a law firm, or even the law firm where you would one day want to train and qualify as an associate, is not entirely flawed; You would invariably have exposure to the day-to-day working life, ethos and vision of the firm as well as the opportunity to showcase your skillset, talent and potential.
However, if [Insert Law Firm] is the Pearson Specter Litt to your Rachel Zane, I would suggest applying directly for a vacation scheme or a training contract as the paralegal route is not a ‘back-door’ to selection as a future trainee solicitor.
Having seen numerous contemporaries take the employment law elective on the LPC and spoken to graduate recruitment, the same performance metric will need to be applied to all applications for vacation schemes and training contracts. This means that experience as a paralegal, at the firm or elsewhere, a master’s degree, PHD or MBA cannot be given undue weight as the same selection criteria must be applied across the selection pool.
This is not to discourage anybody from taking the route I could have taken, if you have the grit and the determination, you can most certainly achieve what Rachel Zane was destined for.
Written by Senior Recruitment Consultant Max Gulliford (firstname.lastname@example.org).