Faced with the prospect of going on to postgraduate study with no guarantee of a training contract or pupillage at the end of it many of today’s law graduates are choosing to follow a career as a paralegal, which may, over time, lead to eventually persuing a career as a solicitor or barrister.
The question often arises as to whether you need any qualifications to become a paralegal. In short you don’t but you might feel that an additional training course would enhance any work experience you might have.
Do beware, however, of the sheer number of paralegal courses on offer and follow the Institute of Paralegals website’s advice to check that the course:
1. Leads to a qualification that is recognised by employers throughout the country. Employers tend to value those courses which lead to a government approved qualification (i.e. one issued by a university or national awarding body like Edexcel) or approved by us.
This is because there are a many small courses run by private providers of dubious benefit. Alternatively, they may be very good courses, but if they do not lead to a qualification and the employer has never heard of them before….
2. Choose a practice-orientated course (a.k.a. vocational courses and practice & procedure courses). Paralegals do things: incorporate companies; interview witnesses; attend court with barristers; complete and submit important official documentation, etc. The courses or qualifications that employers value most highly are the ones that teach you these things. Academic courses such as law degrees, the GDL and even masters degrees in law are often viewed as near-irrelevant by employers (especially solicitors’ firms) as they are not perceived to teach either the practical knowledge needed (yes, you know about the principles of tort, but do you know which courts hear tort cases, how to complete the court forms, what the claims deadlines are etc?).
Some employers, e.g. local authorities will value academic qualifications more highly.
For details of courses that we recommend click here.
Because paralegals do very practical work it is therefore very localized work. The forms, procedures, courts, deadlines, essential information, etc all reflect practise and procedure in England & Wales. For this reason overseas qualifications and experience tend not to be very highly valued.
3. Focus on the practice area you want to work in. Paralegals specialise. General courses covering a range of topics are not helpful unless you need to get an introduction to the law. Ideally you would work out that you like, say, personal injury, and do a course covering that topic. Studying conveyancing and then applying for a job in family law is not going to impress.