Working as a Paralegal: How to Choose the Right Sector for You
It is a fallacy that all paralegals work for solicitors. Many, of course, do, but they are usually law graduates who wish to become solicitors.
These days, however, prompted by several different factors, many are seeking out this fast-growing sector because it is perceived to be an independent profession in its own right. Amanda Hamilton, chief executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), provides a comprehensive beginner’s guide to the paralegal profession below.
Where to start?
This very much depends on what experience and qualifications you already have. You may already be a paralegal without realising it. For example, you may already be involved in some kind of legal task in your current working life. On the other hand, you may have just completed a legal course and don’t know where to go from there.
Whatever the situation you find yourself in, there are a few tips to follow. Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, gain knowledge of academic and procedural law. Just because you may have been involved personally in some legal matter (be it a divorce, or defending a claim made against you) this does not give you carte blanche to advise or assist others.
The paralegal profession is currently unregulated, and that means that anyone can refer to themselves as a ‘paralegal’, whether or not they have legal qualifications or competency. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish yourself from others by gaining a recognised legal or paralegal qualification.
Secondly, become a member of a professional paralegal body. Such an organisation can advise and support you through your career, but be discerning about which to join. Do your research.
Thirdly, gain as much experience as possible.
You may already be a paralegal without realising it.
Experience: Chicken or Egg?
Many paralegal jobs advertised state that experience is required. But how can you gain experience if you can’t get a job? The answer to that is, don’t apply for jobs that are advertised through recruitment companies since they will only get their commission by providing exactly what their clients want.
However, most paralegal jobs that you find are through agencies, so what can you do? Be clever by going directly to the law firms or companies. Once social distancing allows, visit the firms as face to face contact is always the best option. It will have much more impact than sending out your CV or emailing. I know it sounds old fashioned, but these days everyone (and I mean everyone) uses technology. Person to person contact seems to have gone out the window, so if you show initiative, such as physically visiting a firm or company, they will most definitely remember you! Just be aware of social distancing and other hygiene measures in place to protect you, and the firms you visit, from the virus.
How to find your niche sector
The Law is so vast and covers every legal concept imaginable. You therefore have to be particular not only about what areas of law you wish to practise, but also which sector to work in. The best advice is to think about what it is you enjoy. What are your hobbies? This seems like an odd question but every single organisation will have an element of legality to what they do. This includes sectors such as sport (premier league football clubs, athletic associations, etc.), and fashion (retail companies, fashion design etc.), cars (car manufacturers, distributors, outlets, etc.) Wouldn’t it be great if you could work within a company that reflects your hobby?
Working within such an organisation can be diverse too. You may have enjoyed studying employment law, in which case you join the human resource department, drafting employment contracts for professional footballers. Alternatively, you may be involved in drawing up or scrutinising commercial contracts.
How to work – the effect of COVID-19
Since COVID-19, our working lives have changed drastically, with most who have retained their employment, working remotely. As a paralegal you may have recently been released from employment, but don’t despair! There are several other working methods to consider. As stated above, you could find employment in a variety of different employment settings, but you can also work as a freelance and a contractor.
In an effort to get back on their feet, many law firms will be thinking about the most cost effective method of utilising resources. This may include outsourcing work to an independent paralegal or paralegal firm, rather than employing paralegals or solicitors full time to do the job. This can be on a freelance (job-by-job) basis or as a contractor (a contract for a set period of time). The beauty of working in this way is that from your point of view, you become self-employed and are able to negotiate your own hourly, daily or contract rate. From the firm’s viewpoint, whatever they negotiate with you will mean that they are better off as they do not have to pay out for your PAYE and National Insurance contributions, or your pension.
It’s a win-win scenario for all concerned.