By Amanda Hamilton, NALP
If you were furloughed over the lockdown period, perhaps the time off has made you rethink your career path.
Or perhaps you are wondering what to do next because you have been made redundant during the crisis. Well, how about a career in law?
Working as a paralegal can be very rewarding, it offers flexibility and career progression and also the opportunity to specialise in certain sectors. But how do you get from here to working as a paralegal?
Where to begin
If you already have some experience, that’s a great place to start. If you don’t, or you feel that you could do with some additional training, then the most important element is to gain some knowledge of how the English Legal System works especially the court system and hierarchy.
You may be thinking that you know nothing and that you can’t afford to re-train, but there are some basic courses available that do not cost the earth and will give you a solid foundation. For example, the NPC (National Paralegal College) runs a CPD-accredited Paralegal Skills Course for £250. This is specifically designed to teach you the practical skills needed to work as a freelance paralegal. While not a full qualification, it gives you the basic information you need to get started and includes 19 online tutorials.
If a qualification is what you’re after, then the NALP Level 3 Award is what you need. This covers all the basic areas of academic law including. The cost is £450 and is a fully nationally recognised qualification. You may decide to do both of these courses which complement each other and gives you all you need to work as a freelance. This is, of course, subject to your financial means.
How do freelance paralegals work?
As a freelance paralegal, you offer your services to solicitors, barristers or in-house legal departments and are paid on an hourly, daily or weekly rate. The benefit to a business (such as a firm of solicitors or barrister’s chambers or in-house company legal departments) is that they don’t need to employ someone full time, they can agree hours to suit you and their needs, they can choose specialists for certain jobs or projects, and in some cases (depending on IR35) they aren’t responsible for your tax and national insurance as you will be self-employed.
Already have a legal/paralegal qualification?
If you’ve already gained a paralegal or general legal qualification and were made redundant during lockdown or never quite made it to the job market beforehand, then the world is your oyster! You just need to box a little clever if you want a job. Working as a freelance is an option, but if you need to be employed then consider that you don’t just need to apply to work in a solicitors’ firm. All companies will have a legal element to what they do and will consequently have a legal department. Choose a business that matches your interests, such as retail companies, sports organisations, fashion houses, tech businesses or charities. There are so many options open to you as a paralegal.
For many a lack of experience is an issue. They tell me they have no experience and all the paralegal jobs are looking for 1 or 2 years’ experience. How can they gain experience if no-one gives them a job? This is, of course, the classic chicken and egg scenario.
Bear in mind most jobs you see advertised are through recruitment companies. These are agents and are following their client’s wishes. Who are their clients? Usually firms of solicitors that can afford to pay their commission, so of course they will only consider candidates that fit the brief given to them.
The good news is; this isn’t the only route. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this isn’t even the best route!
A general rule
Don’t apply to recruitment companies unless you know you fulfil their eligibility criteria. They’ll only turn you down and that can be demoralising. Instead, go direct to the law firms or companies. And I mean go: visit the firms as face-to-face contact is always best. It will have much more impact than sending out your CV or emailing. I know it sounds old fashioned, but these days 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.
I have a friend who got her first job in the industry by printing off a bunch of CVs and physically knocking on the doors of all her target firms. While standing in reception explaining to the receptionist what she was looking for, one of the Directors walked past, called her in for an interview on the spot and offered her the job there and then. It goes to show that putting in the ‘leg work’ can make a real difference.
I do hope all this information will help you in your chosen career as a paralegal. And, if you join NALP as a member, you will have access to all this and more, including a private 1-2-1 consultation about you your chosen career path.
About the author
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
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