Posted by Abigail Sutcliffe, Trainee Solicitor
Paralegal to trainee: the easy path?
Paralegal work is fast becoming the ‘go-to’ for fresh and enthusiastic law graduates who may be considering their options in law, looking to gain experience or simply get their ‘foot in the door’. If you aspire to a legal career, will having a job as a paralegal or legal assistant help you get on?
Qualifying as a solicitor has long been an aspiration of mine, and so naturally I was delighted to secure a paralegal position just a week after completing my LPC, at a firm I had my sights firmly set on. This seemed the next logical step to ‘keep the ball rolling’ and to gain an insight into the job that I one day hoped to qualify into.
Whether having paralegal experience actually makes the pursuit for the elusive training contract easier, is open to discussion. Drawing upon my experience at Royds Withy King, my advice is as follows:
“Being a paralegal makes me a ‘shoe in’ for a training contract”
Sadly not! As much as career development for internal candidates is supported and encouraged by the firm, you still have to apply for a training contract in the same way as everyone else. It’s important therefore that you get involved in firm life as much as possible to support your application. I would encourage current and future paralegals to offer time to a committee, put yourself forward for extra-curricular activities and when you get the opportunity, attend networking and business development events. This will help you build networks outside of your immediate working environment, as well as show that you’re a ‘good fit’ and can add value. And don’t forget it’s a two-way street- it will also help you assess whether that is the firm you want to train with.
“Paralegal experience will make my training contract easier”
There is a jump between the role of the paralegal and a trainee. This is mostly in terms of the level and complexity of work you are exposed to in each trainee seat. Being a paralegal, you are building a crucial skillset which you will need during your training contract; analytical skills, interpersonal skills, written and oral communication, time management and drafting skills to name but a few.
Personally, my paralegal experience has proved invaluable in getting to this point as a trainee. It has provided me with an abundance of opportunities to get to know my colleagues and to build upon my legal knowledge. In turn, my confidence has grown and I feel comfortable seeking advice and asking questions from my incredibly friendly colleagues, our training principal and current trainees.
Being a paralegal also made the practical elements of the transition to trainee smoother. It meant that I had a working knowledge of a case management system, understood the concept of time recording and I was confident in my ability to engage with clients.
In my experience so far (3 months into my first seat!), my eyes have been opened to an incredibly interesting but steep learning curve as part of the Clinical Negligence team. Adjusting to the varied workload, and adapting my style to suit different fee earners and expectations of the team is part and parcel of being a trainee, and will no doubt differ in each seat. Without any paralegal experience, the start of my training contract could have felt very different and daunting – full of why, what, when, where and who!
Overall, I wouldn’t say that paralegal experience alone makes for an easier road to securing a training contract, but it gives your transferable skills, experience and confidence which stands you in good stead for applications and future progression.
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