A Paralegal’s One-Stop Guide to Each Area of Law
The law can be confusing at the best of times, especially all the different areas. But don’t worry, this guide will fix that. You’ll find the right paralegal job in no time!
Let’s talk about Areas of Law
Chances are that one day you want to qualify as a solicitor. And you’ll probably have a vague idea about what solicitors do in each area of law. But for some reason, no one ever talks about what paralegals do in their respective areas.
Starting out as a paralegal with the ambition of securing a training contract is increasingly becoming the norm. So here’s the ultimate guide to practice areas, from the perspective of a paralegal. Once you know your practice area and the right law firm for you, you’re set.
Which Area of Law pays the big bucks?
The average graduate entry level paralegal role has a salary between £18,000 – £25,000. But this really does depend on your chosen area.
Predictability, the most well-paid paralegal jobs are at law firms that specialise in corporate, commercial and property law. Lower salaries tend to be found in practice areas such as human rights and criminal law.
Which area of law has the most paralegal vacancies?
It’s notoriously hard to get your foot in the door with some areas of law.
This might be true of human rights, environment and private client representation. But it’s especially true of sports, media and entertainment. On the other hand, there are lots of attractive paralegal vacancies in practice areas such as insurance and tax. If personal injury claims are your game, you should have no trouble landing yourself a job.
Want to check out paralegal vacancies right now? Then take a look at exclusive roles with top law firms like DWF, Macfarlanes and Kennedys on Jump. By signing up today, you’ll get personalised paralegal job recommendations tomorrow. Just click here.
Which Areas of Law keep it fresh?
Litigation roles tend to mix it up all the time, while criminal law is known to be perhaps the most exhilarating area of law.
If you’re after variation in your paralegal work, there are a few areas to definitely consider, such as litigation and criminal law.
Intellectual property also gives you the opportunity to work with a myriad of different clients, from artists to entrepreneurs. Or, if you simply want to do something different, take a look at shipping.
If you’d prefer your work to be more consistent, then contract law might be more your speed. Or you could consider property law, especially the paralegal roles that involve conveyancing.
The paralegal world: Areas of Law
It’s time for harsh truths. Many of the most fascinating areas of law don’t pay their paralegals the most impressive salaries.
So, if you’re set on a career in human rights or criminal law, you’ll probably have to settle for a little less money in your pocket.
If, on the other hand, you dream of pinstripe suits and spreadsheets, then you can expect a bigger payslip. Corporate and commercial law firms will pay their paralegals the highest salaries. You can also make good money working for private clients or in property law.
Paralegal work was really important. It helped me gain experience in the practice areas that I wanted to go into. I used these jobs to develop myself and enhance my training contract applications.
Banking and finance
A massive area, from simple bank loans to complex financing arrangements across multiple jurisdictions, and everything in between.
As a paralegal, you could be working on anything from property, acquisition, capital markets, real estate finance or Islamic finance. It’s definitely one of the more varied practice areas for paralegals.
Most of the specialist firms that deal with highly complex international financing will be based in London. Be warned, this is a super-competitive practice area and the work will be intense.
Firms will be looking for candidates who are comfortable crunching numbers and who have great commercial awareness – you can start by picking up the FT.
Competition / Antitrust law
This is one of the more brainy areas: it’s super academic. Be prepared to get political and do some blue-sky thinking. Basically, markets are governed by regulation set by the UK and EU regulatory authorities to ensure that competition is fair.
The UK’s relationship with the EU is changing (a touchy subject). So this practice area will in demand for the foreseeable future. If you want a paralegal job that is relevant, you ain’t going to get more relevant than this.
But it’s important to know that you won’t get much independence as a paralegal. Most of the high-level work is closely supervised by experienced partners.
Paralegals working in this practice area will be tasked with a lot of research: it’s pretty complicated and there’s no precedent for Brexit. You’ll also have to advise on new laws and deal with competition challenges.
Construction is a great place to start building your legal career.
The area of law can essentially be divided into 2 categories: non-contentious and contentious practice. The former involves dispute resolution, while the latter tends to consider procurement of resources and advising on insurance matters.
Paralegals working in construction will be involved in negotiations with finance and property development professionals, working on projects such as housing developments, roads and government buildings.
This practice area might be the one for you if you’re someone who can match a keen eye for detail with creativity. Some knowledge of engineering wouldn’t go amiss either.
Corporate / M&A
It’s not quite Suits, but it is exciting (and well paid).
However, the trade-off is that this is one of the most competitive areas of law for paralegals to get into. Paralegal tasks include drafting reports and helping lawyers to advise companies on significant transactions. This could include company restructuring, the buying and selling of assets and mergers between businesses.
There are also finances to arrange, draft agreements to be written and due diligence to report. If you want to thrive as a corporate paralegal, you need to love a challenge and have a stand-out academic record.
Criminal law is full of variety; every day is different. Paralegals working in this area of law will be involved in a lot of researching for cases, which can range from murder to parking fines.
With court-day deadlines, police station visits, advocacy meetings etc. – this is a fairly hectic line of work. It’s one of the most fascinating and truly rewarding practice areas for paralegals, but it’s also known for having the lowest pay.
This area of law is essentially what it says on the tin. It regulates the relationship between the employer and their employees, judging what employers can reasonably expect from their workforce and which rights employees have.
Contrary to popular opinion, employment is full of drama! Yes, there will be lots of reading up on regulations, but, at the end of the day, it’s about disputes. You’ll be working with lots of different people, often when emotions are flared. If you’re a people-person with great communication skills this might just be the paralegal practice area for you.
I don’t want to burst your bubble, but most law firms are going to be defending their corporate clients – not sticking it to the man.
There are non-commercial routes, such as working for governmental agencies or charities. But most work will consist of helping to advise on compliance with regulation and avoid investigation or prosecution.
Environmental law is often the deal-breaker, as it overlaps with criminal, corporate and EU law, which means having broad legal knowledge is essential. A strong academic record is absolutely necessary as paralegal jobs in this area are extremely competitive.
Family law can be emotionally taxing, but incredibly rewarding. It is one of the most intimate areas of law to work in as a paralegal. You’ll speak directly with clients and experience a full spectrum of familial scenarios.
Being a paralegal at a firm specialising in family law is no easy ride. You’ll need to be both sympathetic and empathic, all while maintaining the rational, logic-driven drive of a legal professional.
Whether you’re dealing with the complications of marriage, inheritance disputes or prenuptial agreements: family law requires good negotiating skills, pragmatism. But most of all, integrity.
Human rights and immigration
Ah, every law student’s dream (until they find out about corporate salaries).
Human rights law mediates between the state’s power and individuals’ rights. Most human rights cases use the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights as their starting point.
Unsurprisingly, the competition for paralegal roles in this area is staggering. You’ll need to complete some pro bono work before you even contemplate applying. While these paralegal salaries aren’t anything to write home about, the work is incredibly interesting.
Law firms in this practice area are looking for paralegals to have strong advocacy skills and thick skin.
Do you try to play it safe, or do you like to roll the dice once in a while?
If it’s the latter, insurance could be the area for you. This area is a real dark horse – despite sounding a little dry, insurance is essentially the practice of hedging against financial risk.
Insurance is a big label that covers pretty much everything and anything you can think of. However, as a paralegal, it’s likely that you’ll be working on personal injury claims or clinical negligence.
Intellectual property law (IP)
IP™ is the area concerned with protecting ideas. You’ll work with artists, entrepreneurs and designers to make sure they get their dues.
Paralegal work in this area is really varied: no two days will be the same. A lot of your work will involve researching registered patents and trademarks and drafting letters to parties threatening to infringe on your clients’ property.
You’ll be expected to be very switched on, able to deal with complex arguments and have good organisational skills
Litigation and dispute resolution
Litigation is essentially assisting with any civil dispute. This could range from an unpaid bill or unfulfilled contract to shipping disputes. There’s a real crossover here with insurance claims, especially personal injury, as well as elements of commercial law.
There’s a lot of paperwork involved. You’ll be expected to meet tight deadlines, be a great negotiator and super organised.
Oh yeah, you also need to be pretty persuasive in an argument!
Private clients and charities
If you enjoy forming close working relationships and have great people skills, this is a great area to venture into.
Basically, you’ll be assisting solicitors to protect the funds of a private client. You’ll be involved in advising individuals, families and trusts on wealth management.
In this area, successful paralegals will have a strong sense of empathy and possess complete impartiality.
Property / Real estate
Think you know the art of the deal? Property law is essentially about transactions. As a paralegal in this area, you’ll assist lawyers in the art. The only caveat is that you need to develop specialist knowledge of the regulation and procedures involved.
Most law firms that specialise in property and real estate will focus solely on buying and selling. But you might also have the chance to gain experience in construction and planning.
The ideal real estate paralegal is an assured researcher and has the confidence to take on client-facing roles when required.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this area is niche. It is. But our small little island relies heavily on shipping; from transport to employment, shipping requires a lot of legal work.
The area is divided into wet shipping (legal matters related to the actual voyage) and dry shipping (everything else – think construction, decommissioning, insurance, registering etc.). You’ll be dealing with a lot of international clients and will need to get up to speed on the complicated world of maritime law.
Most of the UK’s shipping specialists will be based in London, but the other major centres include Piraeus, Hong Kong and Singapore. To succeed in this field, you should have good knowledge of the industry and excellent communication skills. You should be as comfortable speaking with a London-based financier as with a Finnish fisherman.
Sport, media and entertainment
This area combines several smaller fields together – essentially, you need to be knowledgeable of IP, contracts and dispute resolution. The area stretches across the world of professional sport, music, TV, film, theatre and publishing.
It can best be described as the Rolls Royce of areas of law. You might work on high profile cases and research topics that you have a personal interest in. The thing is: everyone knows that. The area is effectively a closed shop in which it is extremely hard to find paralegal vacancies.
Everyone needs to pay tax, so as a paralegal working in this area you’ll never be short of work.
The field can be divided into two main areas. You’ll either be assisting public sector tax lawyers or private sector clients. Public sector tax lawyers tend to be employed by HMRC to provide advice and report on regulations.
Private sector paralegal work usually involves aiding clients to take advantage of legal breaks and loopholes in tax legislation.
This practice area is rather cloistered, so you’ll have to enjoy tax work for what it is. It’s academically challenging and you’ll probably get the chance to gain new qualifications, such as Chartered Tax Advisor exams.
Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the legal market. This area offers paralegals the chance to tackle issues that are evolving daily.
The UK digital technology sector is booming and growing at a 50% faster rate than the rest of the economy. With technology constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, there’s no better time to throw your hat in the ring.
As a paralegal, you’ll have to do a lot of research to help the solicitors at your firm understand new issues and updated regulation. You’ll need to be able to think creatively and have excellent problem-solving skills.
That’s the full breakdown of each area
By now you should have a better understanding of the roles paralegals take on in each practice area. You may even know which one will suit you! If you want to see even more, check out All About Law’s guide to areas of law.
But don’t worry if you’re not quite sure. The easiest way to work it out is through conversations. Talk to friends, colleagues or lecturers. Oh and definitely check out our ultimate paralegal guide.
Or simply use Jump, your virtual career advisor. Jump gives you personalised job recommendations, based on your skills, interests and even how far you want to commute each day. With loads of exclusive paralegal roles available, there’s no better time to sign up.
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