Amanda Hamilton is CEO of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals
The changes within the legal services sector over the last decade, means that there is plenty of scope for paralegals to take up the slack and fill the gaps left by those changes. These opportunities have been as a result of the virtual eradication of legal aid for consumers, the level of fees charged by solicitors and barristers (inaccessible for most), the cost of academic training and the abundance of law graduates.
The consequence is that paralegals are starting to become the go-to legal service providers for most consumers. This is why it is so important to gain as much experience as possible, as soon as possible in your careers whether pro-bono or paid.
Many Universities are opening their own law clinic to provide a service to the local community and to offer the opportunity to law undergraduates to gain experience at an early point in their careers. My advice to all students studying law: get in there and take up this valuable chance to gain experience listening to real people talk about their very real problems. The practical application of the law beats any scenario-based assignment that you may be working on!
Engaging in pro bono work is an important way of helping develop the skills and knowledge you will need if you decide to pursue a pathway as a paralegal. Having experience from pro bono work should give you the sufficient confidence to either gain a paid paralegal position or end up running your own paralegal firm.
Even if your intention is to qualify as a solicitor or barrister, the experience you gain at this stage will be invaluable. Gaining a paralegal position in a law firm could eventually lead to a sponsored LPC and the more experience you have, could lead to by-passing a training contract into qualification. Several ‘paralegals’ already have made it through this route and one or two are now junior partners in their firms.
However, you should not dismiss the idea of becoming a career paralegal professional. Joining a professional membership body (like NALP) and gaining a NALP Licence to Practise will give you the credentials to set up on your own, offering legal services in a similar way that solicitors do but obviously there are some activities that you cannot perform. These are ‘reserved legal activities’ which still remain the monopoly of solicitors.