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The Benefits of Being a Paralegal Before Starting a Training Contract
28th March, 2018
Anyone who is in the process of applying for training contracts will know that it can be a frustrating and worrying time, with fierce competition meaning that hundreds of people could be applying for just a handful of spaces. Many may lose faith that they will ever secure a place, and may feel forced to give up on pursuing law as a career. When competition is so high, it is vital to have a C.V. which stands out. One way to ensure this is to obtain experience on the job as a paralegal.
Working as a paralegal has become a recognised career in itself, and there is even talk that in the future it will be a possible route to qualifying as a solicitor, without the need for a training contract. It also provides a good basis for learning and developing the skills that will be required as a trainee, and ultimately, a solicitor. Speaking from personal experience, I would highly recommend the route of being a paralegal prior to becoming a trainee. I undertook the LPC without first obtaining a training contract, which some may consider a risky move. While it is a huge financial commitment, I thought this would be helpful in the long run, as I would be able to look for jobs with the qualification under my belt, and hoped that this would set me apart from those who hadn’t done it yet. Despite this, I knew that, even though I had undertaken numerous work experience placements of various lengths, it would be beneficial to obtain more legal experience. I thought that if I were to be a paralegal first, I would be able to build up experience in the same environment as I would be training in. I accordingly worked as a paralegal at Howes Percival for two years before starting my training contract with the firm in September 2017, and I am glad that I was able to build up experience in this way. I remember my first few weeks in the job, getting used to the computer system, accounts, telephone and even the commute, and thought that if I had been doing all this for the first time in my training contract, I would feel extremely ill at ease and underprepared for the role.
Some may see a paralegal role as one where there is little responsibility and no opportunity to get involved heavily in matters, or have any client contact. From my experience, the exact opposite is true; I built up more and more responsibility as time went on, and was able to see matters through from start to finish, running my own files under the guidance of my supervisor, and dealing with clients on a daily basis. All of this was incredibly satisfying and I gained confidence in all aspects of work. The clients built up their trust in me and were able to contact me to discuss their matters. Now as a trainee, I am used to the daily routine of working in an office and communicating with colleagues and clients, and it is all much less daunting. The skills I built up will last throughout my career. Further, being a paralegal allows you to experience a particular practice area, and gives you an early indication of what you enjoy and may want to specialise in. If you do then go on to train at the firm, you already know their culture and values, and you can become integrated at a much earlier stage.
Of course, being a paralegal at a law firm does not mean you have a guaranteed training contract there, and you will still need to submit an impressive application and perform well at interview. All this will, however, be easier if you have a solid amount of experience which you can discuss and emphasise the importance of in the application. Even if you apply to firms other than the one you are a paralegal at, the knowledge and skills you have built up will not be overlooked. If you are applying to the same firm, you can emphasise why you enjoy that firm and want to continue your career there. You are gaining experience but being paid at the same time, and not just in legal skills, but in telephone use, time keeping, team work, client contact, matter management and organisation – all vital skills which future employers want.
My tip for anyone unsure about applying for a training contract or even unsure on doing the LPC would certainly be to apply for paralegal roles first (although an increasing number of paralegal roles do require applicants to have completed the LPC). If you are interested in applying for a training contract at Howes Percival, please get in touch about our graduate recruitment.