Paralegal jobs and Careers
Once mainly confined to American parlance, the term paralegal is now used to define a new and growing role in the UK's legal profession. Occasionally also known as legal assistants, paralegals are fee-earning staff who are not legal executives and who are not admitted to the roll.
With a high level of legal training, paralegals assist lawyers and solicitors in delivering legal services. They may work in any sphere where law is practised, including law firms, businesses and government departments. They may not, however, represent a client, give legal advice, sign legal documents filed in court or establish legal fees.
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The growth of this role reflects the deregulation of the legal profession in the UK, where there are now eight categories of licensed regulated lawyer, where there used to be two. Market pressures are making legal advice more available at a lower cost to more people than ever before and this expansion is where paralegals come in.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Working under the guidance of a legal professional, paralegals are responsible for:
- Conducting research and investigating the facts for cases.
- Interviewing clients and witnesses.
- Compiling documents.
- Drafting procedures, pleadings, notices, briefs, subpoenas and other documents.
- Performing legal research into case history.
- Preparing, creating and filing court documents and files.
- Providing other assistance as required by the legal professional.
- Liaising with clients and organising client information.
- Assisting at hearings, arbitrations and trials.
Type of Person
- Paralegals must have a solid knowledge of legal terminology, of the area of law that they are working in and of legal procedure and substantive law.
- Superb organisational skills are needed in order to manage large numbers of case files and exhibits. Paralegals usually assist admitted legal professionals by establishing organisational clarity in complex civil, criminal and transactional cases. Thousands of documents may be involved in a litigation case - paralegals must be able to categorise and index vast amounts of such information.
- Advanced communication skills are vital, as daily interactions will take place with clients, experts, vendors, court personnel and other legal representatives in a litigation or transaction.
- Robust research and writing skills are needed for drafting legal documents, research memorandums, correspondence, pleadings, motions, briefs, legal memorandums and other documents. As well as 'regular' research, paralegals must be effective Internet researchers who are also able to research databases such as Westlaw and Lexis / Nexis.
- Excellent technical and IT skills are essential for legal research, as well as office software, telecommunications, presentation and legal research software. Technology also forms one of the new and growing sectors that paralegals are concerned with.
- Work prioritisation is critical. In a supporting role, paralegals usually work on several cases at once, each with its own set of priorities. Flexibility and adaptability is required for working on a range of assignments with multiple legal professionals.
- Teamwork underpins every area of the paralegal's work, as they are only ever members of a wider legal team involved in the same organisation. Other team members may include legal partners, legal secretaries and other paralegals, as well as outside parties on particular cases.
- Detail orientation is essential, due to the complexity and nature of legal work. Paralegals may often need to fact check the work of other representatives, reviewing documents and working to court deadlines, overseeing the complex progression of cases and transactions, and monitoring budgetary commitments.
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Specialist training is required in order to become a paralegal. Even though a law degree is a higher level of qualification, even law graduates need to undertake additional paralegal training in order to work in this role, due to the practicalities involved.
Typically, paralegals have completed a 2-year associate's degree, a 4-year Bachelor's degree or a paralegal certificate. Those who don't possess these are upgrading their professional qualifications by sitting for paralegal certificates accredited by the new professional associations. Certification certainly gives candidates the edge for the better jobs.
Gaining hands-on experience is usually the best start to this career, although work in solicitors' offices is frequently the hardest to come by. Gaining a role in business or a government department may be easier, or even by acquiring voluntary experience in the charitable sector.
Who Employs Paralegals?
Paralegals are employed anywhere that legal work is conducted (other than barristers' chambers, where barristers' clerks are employed instead). This includes the legal profession, large businesses, governmental departments, charities and not-for-profit organisations.
The variety of the work is provided by the nature of the employer's work and the type of cases that come across the secretary's desk. A Paralegal may be employed in the following kinds of offices.
- Solicitors in mixed practice offices. These may focus on civil or criminal law, representing the private individuals, groups, companies or public sector organisations who are their clients. In civil law, they pursue private law suits or litigation, or deal with wills, contracts, trusts, mortgages, leases, etc. In criminal law, they argue their clients' case in court.
- Corporate (Company or Commercial) legal offices are concerned with the interactions of shareholders, directors, employees, creditors and other stakeholders in a corporation's activities, such as consumers.
- Conveyancing solicitors specialise in the transfer of property ownership. The partners may be solicitors (or legal executives qualified to the same level) who undertake all the legal and administrative work associated with transferring the ownership of land or buildings from one owner to another.
- Litigation lawyers. These offices represent plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases and manage each step of the litigation process from investigation, pleadings and discovery to pre-trial, trial, settlement and appeal. Litigation is said to account for up to 50% of paralegal employment.
- Personal Injury. These offices provide legal representation to clients who claim to have been injured, physically or mentally, through the negligence or wrongdoing of a person, company or other entity.
- Family law. These offices deal with issues around marriage or de facto relationships, including divorce and annulment, alimony, paternity fraud, domestic abuse and child custody.
- Criminal law. These lawyers represent clients who have been charged with crimes and argue their cases in courts of law, after researching their cases.
- Local government. Paralegal work exists in trading standards departments, parking prosecutions, benefit fraud prevention, estates management and other areas.
- Not-for-profit organisations. Such associations and commissions use paralegals in enforcing their codes, although they are often called case workers.
This career zone is expanding rapidly and the salaries are extremely attractive. The paralegal training is relatively light when compared to that of a fully qualified solicitor. As legal provision explodes in a widening marketplace, the paralegal profession offers more career progression than ever before, with the profession gaining greater respect year on year. This means the well qualified paralegal can easily find paralegal vacancies with their choice of geographical area to work in and type of employer to work with.
Paralegal Job Sites
There are no dedicated websites for paralegal jobs, but vacancies can be found on legal websites and general employment sites.
- A large selection of paralegal jobs can be searched through practice area at Simplylawjobs.com
- Select your paralegal job according to specialism, location or experience level at www.legalweekjobs.com/jobs/paralegal/
General employment agencies have sections with paralegal jobs advertised. These include: