What does a Paralegal do?
A paralegal is quite a generic term that refers to a variety of roles carried out by staff who can do legal work, but who are not qualified legal professionals. Paralegals are also known as legal assistants or caseworkers. They often do similar work to solicitiors.
It is estimated that there are around 500,000 paralegal workers in the UK. Paralegals are different to legal support staff, such as legal secretaries in that paralegals actually deal with the law directly, rather than providing back-up services.
Through their work, a paralegal may spend their time administering, enforcing, monitoring or advising on the law.
Day-to –day tasks
Because the term paralegal is quite broad, there a wide range of tasks that a paralegal could potentially do. These include:
- Putting together legal documents
- Carrying out legal research
- Talking to clients and witnesses
- Going to court hearings
- Dealing with clients’ cases
- Providing legal advice
- Legal admin work
Most of the work for a paralegal will be office-based, although time may be spent in court and meeting clients.
Training and qualifications
Whereas very specific training is needed to become a solicitor or a barrister, there are no minimum requirements for becoming a paralegal.
Many paralegals gain their experience and training on the job. Some, but by no means all, come from a legal education background, and others take paralegal training whilst they’re working. Relevant training for becoming a paralegal includes:
- A law degree
- A law-based BTEC, HNC or HND
- A qualification from an organisation such as the Institute of Legal Executives, the of Paralegals or the the National Association of Licensed Paralegals
There are a range of skills and aptitudes which are useful for becoming a paralegal. These are:
- Good attention to detail
- A genuine interest in the law
- Ability to cope under pressure
- Enjoy working with people
- Able to cope with high levels of responsibility
Employment opportunities do exist for paralegals within law firms, but this isn’t the only option. Estimates suggest that only half of the UK’s paralegals work within law firms. The rest work in a wide range of organisations, such as councils, trade unions, educational institutions, police forces, enforcement bodies and large corporations.
Freelance work is also a possibility for experienced paralegals.
Depending on the type of company a paralegal works for and which sector it is in, a paralegal can except to earn from £20,000 when they first start out to £40,000+ as they gain more experience.
Some top-earning paralegals earn over £70,000.