Want a Career Change or to Enter the Legal Profession? Here's How to Become a Paralegal
By Amanda Hamilton, NALP
Ever dreamed of a career in law but are worried about the time it takes and the amount it costs to train? Or are you concerned that perhaps it’s too late for you – just that bit ‘too old’ to change career?
Training to become a Paralegal could be the answer.
It costs around £27,000 to study for a law degree (full-time over three years). Then an extra £15k to undertake the one year professional course (either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors or Bar professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers).
That’s around £42k, and you need to be studying full-time for four years.
Even then, you are still not qualified. You still have to find a two year training contract with a solicitor or firm, or to be a barrister, to find a pupillage of one year with a senior barrister before you can qualify and practise.
For many people, this is way beyond their financial means and time capabilities. So what is the alternative if you have a yearning to work in the law?
The good news is that you can now enter the legal sector as a Paralegal. Fully recognized paralegal qualifications are available online. They start at around £350 for a taster and can take you all the way through to Postgraduate.
How long will this take to complete?
This will vary according to how quickly an individual can assimilate information. If you have not studied since school, then the NALP Level 3 Award is an ideal taster to find out if the subject of studying Law is your thing. It is two units of study, one mandatory and one optional (out of a choice of eight legal subject areas) and should take no longer than four months to complete (although there is an overall period of one year to do so).
If having completed this you decide that you wish to continue, there is a progressive route to a Level 3 Certificate and then a Diploma and then even further to a Level 4 Diploma.
The beauty of going down this route is that you can dip your feet in the water without losing too much time or money.
For those about to leave school and who have a clear idea that they wish to study law, don’t be put off if you (or more likely, your parents) cannot afford university fees; there is a qualification that will, for just a twentieth of the cost of a university degree, give you a full Paralegal Qualification on successful completion.
Likewise, if you are on the verge of graduating with a law degree and are hesitating to book your place on the professional course (either for solicitors or barristers) because of cost or career progression looking bleak, then opting for a Paralegal qualification could be the answer.
All in all, entering the legal sector has never been easier – and Paralegals can do almost the same work as a solicitor. There are just a few activities that Paralegals cannot undertake. These are known as ‘Reserved Activities’ and they include: the automatic right to represent a client in court; litigation; conveyancing; signing a grant of probate.
There are plenty of opportunities to work as a Paralegal in a varied number of employer settings. In fact, there is a broader spectrum of jobs available than if you were a solicitor. You can work for a solicitor within their practice, or for a local authority, or a small or larger corporate company. You can even set up your business provided you hold a NALP Licence to Practise and have professional indemnity insurance (PII).
Training as a Paralegal is a great career option with plenty of flexibility, opportunities and variety. And since the withdrawal of Legal Aid, Paralegals are in more demand than ever – so there has never been a better time to choose a career as a Paralegal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of NALP, a non-profit Membership Body as well as being the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.