How to become a Paralegal. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about Paralegal careers.
What does a Paralegal do?
Paralegals carry out a range of legal work, and although they are not fully-qualified solicitors, they can do much of the work that a solicitor might.
As a paralegal, you could work for various types of employer, such as:
- law firms, supporting solicitors (usually specialising in one area of law such as probate or family law)
- the public or ‘not-for-profit’ sector, for example as an advice worker or caseworker in a Citizens Advice Bureau, charity or trade union
- civil and criminal courts
- police forces and enforcement bodies like Trading Standards
- private companies, advising on business law or managing contracts.
Your exact duties would vary depending on the type of setting you worked in, but would often involve:
- preparing legal documents
- interviewing clients and witnesses
- attending court
- handling a caseload of clients
- giving legal information to clients
- typing, filing and other general clerical tasks.
In a full-time job you would typically work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. Part-time, job sharing and temporary work may be available.
Most of the work is office-based, with some travel to attend court or meetings.
How much does a Paralegal earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Starting salaries are often between £22,000 and £35,000 a year.
- With experience this can rise to up to £46,000.
- Top salaries in large law firms can reach £78,000 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To become a paralegal you will need a good standard of general education, and a good understanding of the law and legal system. Employers may ask for varying qualifications and experience, such as:
- a paralegal studies qualification from the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX), the National Association of Licensed Paralegals or the Institute of Paralegals
- relevant work experience in a legal setting
- a BTEC HNC/HND or foundation degree in law or legal studies
- a law degree.
If you have not studied law beforehand, you could join a law firm in an administrative role and study for paralegal qualifications whilst you are working. You could also start to study paralegal qualifications at a local college before looking for work (see the Training and Development section below).
Some employers may prefer you to have a law degree. Many law graduates and postgraduates with the Legal Practice Certificate or Bar Professional Training Course (formerly the Bar Vocational Course) take jobs as paralegals if they have not yet found a solicitor’s training contract or barrister’s pupillage.
Training and Development
Your employer will usually provide on-the-job training including company procedures and case management systems, or in-depth training in a particular area of law. You can also study for paralegal qualifications whilst you are working, from any of the following organisations:
- ILEX with City & Guilds
- National Association of Licensed Paralegals
- Institute of Paralegals.
ILEX/City & Guilds offers:
- Level 2 Award, Certificate and Diploma in Legal Studies
- Level 3 Diploma in Vocational Paralegal Studies.
The National Association of Licensed Paralegals offers:
- Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies
- Post Graduate Diploma in Paralegal Practice (PPC) – for law graduates who want to progress as a paralegal but do not wish to qualify as a solicitor or barrister.
The Institute of Paralegals offers:
- Legal Practitioners’ Qualification (LPQ) Foundation Certificate in Paralegal Studies
- BTEC Level 2 and 3 Awards in Law and Legal Work.
You can normally study for these courses by distance learning, or part-time at some local colleges. Check each organisation’s website for more information on their qualifications and where to study.
If you work in a legal setting, you could also choose to study a part-time foundation degree in law or legal studies. Several colleges and universities offer relevant courses.
At the moment there are no rules about what qualifications and training a paralegal must have. However, the National Association of Licensed Paralegals and the Institute of Paralegals both offer professional recognition and ongoing training to members – see websites for details.
Skills and Knowledge
- excellent spoken and written communication skills
- patience and tact, to be able to work with all kinds of client
- the ability to take in large amounts of complex information
- a high level of accuracy and attention to detail
- research skills
- the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
- good organisational and time management skills
- computer and administrative skills
- respect for confidential information.
You could work as a paralegal for many kinds of employer, including law firms, private companies, local government, public bodies, or for the police, courts or probation service.
Jobs may be advertised in the local press, at Jobcentre Plus or by specialist legal recruitment agencies.
With experience and further study, you could qualify as a legal executive and eventually as a solicitor. If you have already achieved the Legal Practice Course (LPC), some law firms may offer you a training contract to allow you to qualify as a solicitor.