How to become a paralegal in the UK
A paralegal works in a highly respected role within a legal team, with a comprehensive understanding of the law and judicial issues, but is not qualified as a solicitor. But what does it take to become a paralegal in the UK?
Paralegals perform a variety of management and litigation work. They liaise with solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives.
A paralegal's job is to support lawyers with their caseload, and they can choose to practise in a certain area of law.
A few examples of paralegal specialised fields
- Intellectual property
Intellectual property administration and protection are becoming more complex for businesses worldwide. Often they hold vast portfolios of intellectual assets operating in multiple jurisdictions with differing laws on intellectual property and varying degrees of protection. A good example of a diverse and sophisticated team in this field is Clarivate, which works at a high level in several fields, including Intellectual Property.
Rapid advances in innovation have led to violators growing more sophisticated, while the growth of intellectual property as a major trigger of mergers and takeovers has made it all the more critical that companies design policies safeguard these intellectual property portfolios.
- Criminal paralegal
Paralegals in criminal law support solicitors providing judicial support to individuals charged with a criminal offence or the Criminal Prosecution Service/Procurator Fiscal. They may be instrumental in making certain that clients know about their court hearings, or they may help with collecting evidence and researching the legislation.
- Consumer paralegal
Many consumer paralegals operate as independent contractors, which enables them to be directly contracted by clients. Consumer paralegals can provide a diverse range of support services, but most relate to grievances that a consumer holds with a company.
For instance, consumer paralegals can help clients draft a complaint letter to a company or their landlord and help them to address the dispute. As a Consumer Advocate, you can also support your clients in dealing with the Consumer Protection Association or assist them in restoring credit reports after years of poor standing.
Difference between solicitor and paralegal
The distinction between a paralegal and a solicitor is that Solicitors automatically are entitled to defend you before most courts, but Paralegals cannot. But if you choose to defend yourself, a paralegal can assist and counsel you.
A paralegal may not represent your case and cannot submit documents to the court or file motions on your behalf. Paralegals may, however, provide personal assistance to a party to a case.
They also provide their assistance at a fraction of the price. Keep in mind that using a paralegal doesn't stop you from involving a solicitor at a later stage, should the need arise.
How to get into a paralegal career
As the term "paralegal" is not protected in the same way as the designation "solicitor", anybody may refer to themself as a paralegal with no certification or training. But professional organisations are pressing to fix this and make paralegal a protected occupational status.
Paralegals have generally completed all their education before joining the legal profession. However, for others, they have completed their training whilst progressing up through the legal profession.
Moreover, many paralegals are enrolled in Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes to satisfy the demands of their practice jurisdiction, law firm, or association. A further benefit is that paralegal education takes just two to four years to attain.
A paralegal's daily tasks
The day-to-day duties vary according to their field of practice and expertise. They may include some of the below tasks but need not:
- Research of Statute and Common Law
- Representing a client in meetings (not a court)
- Project administration
- Document administration
- Writing legal drafts for cases
- Ad hoc management assistance
- Client legal counselling
Paralegals are connected with a wide range of reputable companies, and they are employed in the public and private sectors and law practices. Furthermore, paralegals can focus on a particular field of legislation, e.g. family law, tax law, criminal law, and consumer law.
What it takes to be a paralegal
The job of a paralegal generally involves dealing with a very prestigious sector. A neat appearance and confident behaviour are crucial.
If you need to show up in court suddenly, you cannot appear with a rumpled dress shirt, or bean spills on your clothes. You always need to be prepared.
In the paralegal career, you must do a great deal of reading, processing and assimilating vast quantities of information into data. And you have to use that information to succeed in whatever capacity possible within a court proceeding.
That means you must possess phenomenal administrative capabilities and must be able to convey all relevant particulars. Quick typing is also beneficial to stay on top of all the memos and enquiries.