Working as a Paralegal
The majority of Paralegals work in solicitors' firms and are termed 'fee earning unadmitted staff'.
The term 'fee earning' means that they are part of those employees who directly produce income, or 'fees' for the firm (as opposed, for example, to those who carry out secretarial or administrative duties).
This means, therefore, that they have their own clients and their own files, or case load.
Unadmitted staff' are those members of a law firm who are not qualified solicitors (when a solicitor qualifies s/he is 'admitted' to the roll of solicitors).
Paralegals do virtually the same work as solicitors do. There are very few things that only a solicitor has a monopoly by statute to do.
The kind of legal work that a paralegal will do will include civil litigation (i.e. court work) - including general and commercial litigation, personal Injury and medical negligence litigation, criminal work.
Other areas are matrimonial (including civil partnerships) and family, corporate and commercial, probate and administration, wills and trusts, as well as employment, business, insolvency, residential conveyancing, commercial conveyancing, landlord and tenant.
Paralegals can also carry out work in welfare, immigration, taxation, banking and intellectual property and patents. Some of these areas will include the opportunity to practise some advocacy (i.e. representing a client) in front of:
- a District Judge in the 'Small Claims Court'
- a District Judge or High Court Master on an interim hearing in a litigation matter
- a District Judge on an ancillary relief hearing in a matrimonial issue
- a Chairman of a Tribunal
A Paralegal also needs inter-personal skills
In addition to legal knowledge and understanding, a paralegal will also need inter-personal skills, as the practice of law involves interacting with other people, be it a client, another lawyer, a police officer, a court official, a district judge or high court master, etc.
Skills, such as those required for interviewing, communicating, negotiating, writing are extremely valuable as are general IT skills.
Paralegals usually tend to specialise in a particular area of law. If they start off, say, in the litigation department of a firm, then they will tend to stay, and specialise in the area of litigation.
When they seek another job for career advancement, they will tend to look for one in that same legal area - litigation. This, however, will very much depend on the type of firm for which the paralegal is working.
The larger the firm, the narrower the area of specialisation. In a small, sole principal, firm, it is more likely that the paralegal will be involved in legal areas across the board.
A rewarding career
A career as a paralegal is extremely interesting and full of 'job satisfaction'. Salaries are good and are not far short of those of a solicitor of equal experience.