I would very much like to convey my heartfelt thanks to my Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies tutor who has provided excellent feedback throughout this course, as well as food for thought. Maria is so very good and very measured.
What is a Paralegal?
A Paralegal is a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures and who is not a qualified solicitor or barrister. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector.
Paralegals are important members of the legal team
Within the legal profession, solicitors have always relied upon their unadmitted support staff and could not operate effectively without them. Paralegals are important members of the legal team, playing key roles in the legal process. Their duties involve them working closely with Solicitors and Barristers and may take them from office to courtroom, from clients to conferences, from the law library to the negotiating table.
The work that Paralegals undertake is quite often virtually indistinguishable from that undertaken by the Solicitors who employ them.
The term 'Paralegal' is generic
The term, or title, 'Paralegal' has caught on within the legal profession and is now used almost exclusively to describe fee earners or part fee earners amongst unadmitted staff who are not legal executives. The title 'legal assistant' is used in a few firms, but it is only a small minority. 'Paralegal' and 'Legal Assistant', as titles, are synonymous. However, unlike the term 'Legal Executive' or 'Licensed Paralegal', which are specific titles, the term 'Paralegal' on its own is, as stated, is generic.
Paralegals must strive for professional excellence
It is essential that Paralegals strive for personal and professional excellence. They should possess integrity, professional skills and dedication to the improvement and expansion of the Paralegal role in the delivery of legal services.
The importance of this can be seen from the relevant statistics. Whereas there are some 100,000 (plus) practising solicitors there are estimated to be over 200,000 unadmitted staff who carry out direct 'fee earning' work. Out of this some are legal executives. The rest are, by definition, 'Paralegals' the largest sector of the legal profession.
Being a law graduate does not mean you can perform Paralegal work
Graduating with a Law Degree or attaining the LPC does not necessarily mean a person is qualified to do paralegal work. Further training is required to gain knowledge of the practical side of the profession.
For law graduates who have not been able to afford the LPC or obtain a Training Contract, an alternative career as a Paralegal can provide many opportunities.
Working in other sectors
Many organisations within commerce and industry need and benefit from employees who have a broad knowledge of law and procedure together with an expertise applicable to their particular sector.
Paralegals can, therefore, be seen working in areas such as Financial Services, Insurance, Banking, Building Societies, the Retail Sector, Credit Control, Export, Entertainment and the Media, etc.
In the Public Sector are Government Departments, Local Authorities, Court and Tribunal Staff, Welfare, the Probation Services, Social Services, the Police and the like. In these areas a Paralegal qualification can be invaluable.