The Ultimate Paralegal Guide (2020)
Here we will cover everything you could possibly want to know about the life of a paralegal.
You’ll get to grips with what a paralegal day-to-day, the real difference between paralegals and lawyers, as well whether it’s the right career path for you.
The guide also pulls back the curtain on how to become a paralegal from start to finish. We work with some of the UK’s top law firms so we know what it takes.
Get the lowdown on how to write a killer paralegal CV and paralegal cover letter, as well as how to answer paralegal interview questions.
Already a paralegal? Trying to secure a training contract?
We’ll cover that too.
So whether you’re still studying or already living the paralegal dream, The Ultimate Paralegal Guide is essential reading.
What is a paralegal?
How to become a paralegal
Applying for paralegal jobs
What to expect
You’ve got this
Chapter 1: What is a Paralegal?
This is a big question – but one that Jump is intimately familiar with! Let’s start with the basics.
It’s tricky to precisely define a paralegal but, in essence, a paralegal is not a qualified solicitor. However, they do carry out many of the same tasks and they can provide legal advice.
There isn’t really an average paralegal job either. You might work at a London-based law firm or you could work at an in house corporate legal team. Similarly, you’ll find paralegals working in each area of law: from personal injury claims to corporate mergers and human rights litigation.
What does a Paralegal do?
Paralegal work is incredibly varied. The tasks they complete depend completely on the practice area, how senior they are and the organisation they work for – there’s a lot to cover. But we can assume that the usual paralegal tasks hold true across the board. Typically paralegals:
- Draft documents
- Carry out research
- Write reports, bills and letters
- Organise solicitors’ diaries, meetings etc.
- Maintain and organise files
- Assist with trial preparation
At a glance, paralegal work looks pretty similar to the tasks a trainee might carry out.
What’s the difference between a Paralegal and a Lawyer?
Paralegal work often overlaps with the work of solicitors, so you’d be forgiven for not being able to clearly distinguish the difference.
A helpful way to tell the two roles apart is to see the solicitors job as more holistic. They have to consider legal matters from all perspectives and usually work on a case from beginning to end.
In contrast, the paralegal’s job typically involves working on specific aspects of a case and following the guidance of an experienced solicitor.
Fundamentally, solicitors are like doctors. Paralegals are like nurses. This is a very simplistic outline of the difference but it works for now. If you want to dig a little deeper, dive into this article on the Jump Academy: What is a paralegal?
Hopefully, you’ve already got a better understanding of what a paralegal is. But do you know what the average paralegal salary in the UK is? Probably not.
Typical Paralegal Salaries
Not many people can confidently tell you exactly what a paralegal is. But even less can explain how much a paralegal gets paid. Luckily for you, I’ve done some research on your behalf.
The Institute of Paralegals give us a rough estimate of the average paralegal salaries in the UK.
- Junior Paralegals (non-graduate) – £14,000 to £22,000
- Junior Paralegals (graduates) – £18,000 to £25,000
- Paralegals with 3 to 5 years experience – £30,000 to £40,000
- Experienced Paralegals – up to £55,000
Essentially, your paralegal salary will boil down to a few factors:
- Your legal practice area. E.g. corporate law, family law, environmental law
- The size and/or type of employer – small firm, international firm, legal aid firm
- Location – a paralegal salary in London or another big city will be higher
- Experience, qualifications and level of responsibility
The most important thing is – to know your worth! Paralegal work is a great way to build up invaluable legal experience and a proven path to becoming a trainee solicitor. But you still need to pay the bills. This really is the take-home message when it comes to paralegal salaries.
If you’re applying to entry level paralegal jobs, makes sure the salary is in line with the above guide. And for those of you that are already paralegals, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re reaping the rewards for all your hard work.
Is a Paralegal career right for you?
Seeing as you’re reading The Ultimate Paralegal Guide, odds are you already have an inkling that you want to become a paralegal (or maybe you’re already one).
While you may think you know what it takes to be a perfect paralegal, it’s worth knowing which qualities employers are looking for. That’s why you’ve come to the right place. Jump works with some of the UK’s top law firms and, with some of the most attractive legal jobs already on the platform, we can speak from experience.
The key paralegal skills:
- Excellent communication
- Excellent written English
- Knowledge of the law (experiences that demonstrate legal understanding)
- Organisational skills
- Adaptability – chances are you’ll be thrown in at the deep end!
- Research skills
- IT proficiency – think Word, Excel and PowerPoint
- Professionalism – you’re able to work ethically and in a business-like manner
Let’s get real. Being a paralegal is no walk in the park. It can be challenging and, at times, exhausting. But it’s worth it! If you’ve recognised the above qualities in yourself then you’re the type of person that employers are looking to hire for their paralegal roles.
These employer expectations are also astonishingly similar to the qualities that law firms expect from their trainees and solicitors. That’s why paralegal work is a terrific way to gain the necessary experience you’ll need when applying to a Training Contract.
Paralegal work was really important. It helped me gain experience in the areas of the law that I want to go into. I used these jobs to develop myself and enhance my applications.
Chapter 2: How to become a Paralegal
Paralegals are now firmly in line for highly coveted Training Contracts. The rationale is that paralegal work provides invaluable legal experience in specific practice areas and distinguishes you as an individual with a genuine interest in law.
Basically, it’s a good idea if you have ambitions to become a solicitor! That means you should be asking yourself one important question: how do I become a paralegal?
There are no set qualifications that you absolutely need to become a paralegal, but there are certainly some that help. Perhaps the most asked question when it comes to paralegal qualifications is: do I need a degree to become a paralegal?
The short answer is no. But it helps. Most paralegals will have a qualifying law degree, usually either an LLB or a GDL.
A Law Degree
Most employers expect their paralegals to have completed an LLB (undergraduate law course). Most job offers will be contingent on your achieving a 2:1, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to find paralegal work with a 2:2.
Don’t be put off a legal career just because you have a non-law degree. In the UK top law firms actively encourage non-law graduates to apply for paralegal roles and Training Contracts.
Did you know that roughly 50% of Training Contracts are offered to non-law grads?
However, these law firms do want to see that you’ve got what it takes to hack it in the world of law. And what better way to prove this than by completing your GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law). The GDL usually takes about a year to complete. But remember that your hard work will pay off!
The Legal Practice Course is a concrete requirement if you’re planning to become a solicitor. Which means before you can begin a Training Contract you’ll need to complete it.
The qualification also comes in handy when applying for paralegal jobs at some of the UK’s top law firms.
Most of the competition will have a qualifying law degree, that’s a given. That’s why some Magic Circle Law Firms are now expecting paralegals to have an LPC (Legal Practice Course).
CILEx Route to a Paralegal Career
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) offer qualifications that can get your legal career off to a flying start.
The time you spend completing it depends on whether you already have a qualifying legal degree. But usually, you can complete the courses while working as a paralegal – it’s a win-win.
The different areas of law
If you’re embarking on a legal career you probably think that you know all about areas of law. Well, this might come as a surprise, but I’ll wager you’ve still got a lot to learn.
After all, a law degree doesn’t teach you precisely which tasks a paralegal working in shipping is expected to do. Or what a family law paralegal gets up to during their week.
If you want to become a paralegal these might be some of the practice area questions you want answers to:
Which practice areas pay the highest Paralegal salary?
We’ve already discussed what the average paralegal salary in the UK looks like: entry level paralegals typically earn anywhere between £18,000 and £25,000.
But you’ll find the highest earning paralegals working at firms which specialise in corporate and commercial law.
By contrast, immigration paralegals, criminal paralegals and those working in human rights law will earn comparatively less. But, hopefully, the lower salaries don’t put you off; ultimately these are among the most riveting practice areas for a paralegal to work in.
Which areas of law offer the most varied work?
Not many paralegals ask themselves this question, but it’s incredibly important. This has everything to do with your overall job satisfaction – people who are more engaged with their work tend to be happier.
Entering the legal world is no picnic. No one pretends it is. But it’s worth considering how the practice area you choose to specialise in will affect your work-life balance and daily tasks.
Litigation roles are usually the most varied, as no two cases are the same. You might also want to consider criminal law or intellectual property law.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a regular routine. If you prefer more stability in the workplace you may be more inclined to take a paralegal job in contract or property law.
Which law firm is right for you?
If you want to become a paralegal one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is which law firms to apply for.
This isn’t a decision you should take lightly either. The law firm you end up at will likely determine your career trajectory and the practice areas you specialise in.
The Magic Circle
No, I’m not talking about “the premier magicians’ society” of the same name. I’m talking about the heavy hitters of the UK legal world: the top 5 leading law firms.
- Allen & Overy
- Clifford Chance
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
- Slaughter and May
Why are The Magic Circle so prestigious?
Well, securing a paralegal job at any one of these fantastic firms will feel like magic! Vacancies are extremely competitive and often they will only invite you to interview if you have an LPC.
But it’s worth remembering – if you do become a Magic Circle Paralegal, you’ll be earning a higher salary and increase your chances of progressing your career quickly.
The Silver Circle
It’s easy for some would-be solicitors to forget The Magic Circle aren’t the only law firms in the UK. The attraction of other firms is abundantly clear when it comes to The Silver Circle: a group of five elite law firms, which are themselves very similar to The Magic Circle.
- Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
- Herbert Smith Freehills
- Travers Smith
A paralegal job at any one of these top firms would definitely help to set you up for a successful legal career. And to make things even better The Silver Circle is known to be less gruelling than the typical Magic Circle experience.
At any London based law firm you will be expected to work long hours, but The Silver Circle is known to provide a similar quality of work without the more stringent atmosphere associated with The Magic Circle.
Which law firms offer Training Contracts?
It’s no great secret that a lot of you paralegals want to become a trainee solicitor. So you’ll probably be wondering which law firms will give you the best shot. Lucky for you I’ve compiled all the information you need to make the best choice.
The Paralegal’s Guide to the Top Law Firms includes the application deadlines, how many trainees they take on each year and whether the firm will sponsor your qualifications.
The guide gives you Jump’s pick of the bunch – working with some of the UK’s leading firms, we have some great insider info! If you want to receive personalised paralegal job recommendations for some of these firms simply sign up to Jump.
Chapter 3: Applying to Paralegal Jobs
Here’s where it gets interesting! This chapter isn’t just for prospective paralegals. Even if you’re already a paralegal this chapter will prove pretty useful to you. Just think, if you want to progress your career you’ll need to master the application process.
Applying to jobs can be stressful at the best of times – let alone applying to super competitive law firms. But the Ultimate Guide is here to help!
I’ll break this chapter down into the stages you’ll go through when you apply to paralegal jobs. These are the three key areas that you need to ace if you want to become a paralegal:
- Your paralegal CV
- Writing your paralegal cover letter
- Answering paralegal interview questions
The Paralegal CV
You can get rejected from a job in less than 30 seconds. Law firms know what bad CVs look like and if yours is one of them, don’t be expecting a callback.
Here are a couple of tip to write the perfect paralegal CV.
Make sure your CV is task-focused
It’s no good having great legal experience if you don’t keep your CV task-focussed. Your employer won’t be impressed by vague statements and obscure descriptions. They will be impressed when you tell them what you’ve achieved and give them the stats to back it up.
Remember, a good paralegal CV is one that sells you. So try thinking about it from the employer’s perspective: what would it take to convince you to buy?
The answer is facts. You’ll need to back up statements like ‘I have excellent time management skills’ with task-focused statements that clearly demonstrate your impact.
And whatever you do, don’t forget about the numbers game! A paralegal resume that quantifies tasks is like gold dust to law firms!
Check. Double-check. Triple-check.
Speaking of buying and selling, would you buy a car with no engine? Probably not. In the same way, don’t expect an employer to invest in a paralegal who can’t spell.
Paralegals are expected to be adept at writing, editing and proofreading. Don’t expect to get hired if your CV is littered with spelling and grammar errors.
So proofread your CV to death. And then get someone else to give it a go. This way you’ll definitely pick up on any mistakes which could cost you the job.
And please, please don’t rely on spellcheck – we’ve all been burnt doing that!
Formatting is crucial
Reading your CV shouldn’t be a painful experience. And trust me, it can be if you don’t format it correctly.
Give the employer an easy ride by:
- Using bullet points
- Using subheadings
- Getting it all on 1 side of A4 paper
- Clearly segmenting your CV
This stuff is important! It doesn’t matter how good your experience is – if your CV is a chore to read, chances are you won’t get the job.
Cover Letters for Paralegals
Your cover letter needs to
prove that you’re the
paralegal who will make the
greatest impact at this
A successful paralegal cover letter must:
- Demonstrate that you know this law firm inside out
- Show that you have the qualities they’re looking for in their paralegals
- Have perfect spelling and grammar
But don’t forget that the letter should make enjoyable reading too. Let your personality come across and craft compelling, persuasive writing.
Show great knowledge of your chosen law firm
You’re a great researcher, right? Or at least I hope you are if you want to become a paralegal!
To really impress a hiring manager with your cover letter you’re going to have to show that you know why you’re applying to this particular law firm. Make them feel special.
To do this you’ll need to know the following things about them:
- Which practice areas do they specialise in?
- Where do they operate?
- Have they completed any noteworthy deals recently?
- What do they expect from their paralegals?
- What are their values?
While this may seem like a lot of work, especially if you’re applying to several firms, it really does make all the difference.
Align your skills with the job description
In layman’s terms: why should you get the job?
This bit should be easy. Remember we were talking about how your CV should be focused? Well, your cover letter is no different.
Make sure that you know the qualities this particular firm wants to see in their paralegals and then simply align each of your experiences with these qualities. If you’re still not sure we have tons more information on paralegal cover letters.
To do this part well, keep asking yourself: what was my impact?
You need to remember that law firms read thousands of applications every year. They know exactly what makes them a top firm. What they don’t know is your story.
When you write your cover letter, show them how your experiences have shaped your life and brought you to this point. Give them your personal narrative as well as the legal experience. Ultimately, a good cover letter will reflect your story.
Get the basics right: How’s your spelling?
I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve just let out an almighty sigh: not spelling again…
But the only reason we keep talking about it is because it’s so darn important! If you get this wrong you can wave goodbye to the job. So make sure to proofread.
There’s also some formatting etiquette that you need to be aware of:
- Keep your paralegal cover letter to one side of A4 paper
- Use a sensible, size 11 font (Comic Sans is strictly forbidden)
- Include the date and your contact info in the top left corner
- Address the letter to the hiring manager
- Sign off politely: ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the addressee), ‘Yours faithfully’ (if you don’t).
How to structure your Paralegal cover letter – the right way
To learn how to structure your cover letter properly go look at the Paralegal Cover Letter Template I’ve drafted up for you. But here’s a quick and easy way to structure the paragraphs of your cover letter:
- Who are you and why are you writing?
- Why do you want this job?
- Why should you be offered the job?
- Sign off politely.
Paralegal Interview Questions
Congratulations! If you’ve got
to the interview then you’re
doing something right!
Interviews are all too often nerve-racking experiences, but they don’t have to be. All you need to do is research your potential employer, pre-empt the questions and ensure your answers clearly demonstrate your impact.
And most importantly, stay calm! Take your time and take control. The interview isn’t an interrogation, it’s your time to shine.
You’ve got this!
Do Your Research
This really shouldn’t be too tricky – you’ve already done it! Seeing as you’ve gotten an interview off the back of your CV and cover letter, let’s assume you’ve shown pretty good knowledge of the firm and their values.
Paralegal Interview Questions (& Answers)
This one might be a little more difficult.
In general, paralegal interview questions and answers don’t tend to vary hugely from the normal interview script. You’ll probably be asked about your time-management or your problem-solving abilities.
I’ve written a useful list of the paralegal interview questions as well.
But, without a shadow of a doubt, you’ll be asked – why do you want to join our firm? To answer this question well it may be worth considering the age-old adage: practice makes perfect. My advice would be to write out your answer and practise delivering it in the mirror. However, if you’re still unsure, here’s some more advice on how to answer this key question.
How to Answer Competency Questions
How many of us have found ourselves stuck for words in a job interview? I’m going to go right ahead and say all of us, right?
It may be a common experience, but it’s entirely avoidable. All you need to do is follow the STAR method. If you haven’t heard of it, stop what you’re doing, put everything down and go find out the secret to competency based questions.
To recap, STAR stands for:
The STAR method ensures that you always answer competency questions in a way that clearly shows the actions you took and the impact you made. This really is the formula employers are looking for.
The most important thing to consider before a paralegal interview is how do you distinguish yourself from the competition?
Be authentic and passionate. Law firms want to hire someone that really, really wants to work for them. Interviewers can clearly spot authentic interest and passion. It will add significant value to your overall interview performance.
What to Consider When You Apply for Paralegal Jobs
It is surprisingly easy to forget things. Especially these 5 while applying to paralegal roles
Location. Location. Location.
Strangely enough, the number one thing that people forget is that the world is a big place! Sorry to break it to you, but a daily commute between London and Manchester isn’t the best idea you’ve had. Commuting can really affect job satisfaction, which means it should always be at the forefront of any career choice.
Location also plays a big role in determining your salary. Paralegal jobs in London will pay significantly higher salaries than those in smaller towns. Similarly, paralegal jobs in Manchester and Leeds will pay better than those elsewhere.
Do You Speak Another Language?
You could get your legal career off to a flying start simply by speaking a second language. As the world becomes more interconnected, law is increasingly transcending borders – a law firm in London will do business with clients from all over the globe.
And not all of them will speak English.
If you’re a foreign language speaking paralegal, make sure to take advantage of it! But it’s worth noting that shaky GCSE Spanish doesn’t count as a second language.
Chapter 4: What to Expect From a Paralegal Job
We’ve talked about what a paralegal is and how to become one. But we haven’t actually talked about what life is like as a paralegal.
Paralegal Working Hours
I’m not going to lie to you, no one signs up to becoming a paralegal because of the cushy working hours. Some days will be long and you’ll be expected to put in the hard graft to get the job done.
Officially your working hours will be 9 am to 5 pm, but don’t be shocked if you’re expected to work later. You’re most likely to work long hours at the top city law firms. However, the trade-off is that they pay their paralegals significantly more.
If you’d prefer more stable working hours then you might want to consider paralegal jobs at in house legal teams. These roles tend to be less hectic than their law firm counterparts.
Where Do Paralegals Work?
This isn’t a silly question!
As a paralegal, where you work will largely be up to your choice of practice area. For instance, if you choose to go down a corporate or commercial route you will probably end up working in a major UK city like Manchester or London.
If you choose to work in family law or tax law, your guess is as good as mine. You might have to make the choice between smaller regional firms or the big city players.
And there’s no reason for you to spend your entire legal career in the same place. Most of the UK’s larger firms will have several offices across the UK.
While the majority of law firms will be based in London, Manchester and Birmingham, you’ll find firms present across the country.
Chapter 5: Paralegal career progression
Paralegals are going places. It’s a job that opens doors to several really attractive career paths.
For example, you could use your paralegal job as a stepping stone towards becoming a solicitor or you could pursue more senior paralegal roles. As the Institute of Paralegals points out, you have lots of career paths available to you.
Either way, if you get a paralegal job you give yourself the best possible platform for pursuing a career in law.
How to Land a Training Contract
A question you’ll frequently hear is: can paralegals become solicitors?
The answer is obvious, of course they can! In fact, paralegal work is now being regarded as a well-trodden route towards the Training Contract.
What is a Training Contract?
It’s like an apprenticeship. You’ll spend two years transforming all of your academic knowledge of the law into practical ability – essentially, you’ll learn how to practice law.
During your Training Contract, you’ll be overseen by senior solicitors who will guide your development and ensure that you make good progress.
But before you can take up a Training Contract, you must first complete a qualifying law degree (e.g. LLB or GDL) and then your LPC (Legal Practice Course).
Be warned, landing a Training Contract is no walk in the park. These coveted fast-track routes are notoriously competitive, as AllAboutLaw has helpfully broken down.
How it Works: Paralegal Leading to Training Contract
There’s no single route to a Training Contract and all of them involve a lot (and I mean a lot) of hard work.
The competition for each contract will be formidable. But before you give up on it altogether, remember that you’ve got a real competitive advantage: paralegal experience.
Each year a large proportion of the candidates will be second-year law students. Getting your hands dirty in a law firm not only demonstrates your genuine enthusiasm for the law, it makes you more experienced than a lot of the other applicants.
Paralegal jobs also give you the time to make the best decisions for your career. Nowhere else will give you a trial run in the job.
And between you and me, it helps to work in the firm you’re applying to. You’ll already know all about their values, mission and culture.
If you’re looking to progress your career internally, a good law firm will recognise that you have the qualities to be a successful lawyer.
When Should You Apply for a Training Contract?
If you’ve set your sights on landing a Training Contract then don’t waste any more time! I’ve put together The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Training Contract Applications which simply has to be on your reading list.
Browse through our picks for some of the top Training Contracts on offer this year with all the logistical info you’ll need to plan out your application. The Cheatsheet is a step-by-step guide that walks you through the application. It has a handy timeline for the entire process, as well as all the key deadlines and dates for specific law firms.
Applying for a Training Contract as a paralegal is a lot easier too. You can take your pick of the firms without having to worry about finishing your university degree.
And you shouldn’t worry too much if you don’t currently have an LPC. Most of the UK’s top law firms will happily sponsor their Trainees. You can find out which law firms will sponsor your LPC by taking a look at this: The Paralegal’s Guide to the Top Law Firms in the UK.
Can You Become a Solicitor Without a Training Contract?
There’s good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?
The bad news is that becoming a solicitor without landing a Training Contract is very difficult. The good news is that it is technically possible.
So how’d you do it? Well, it started in 2014 when the SRA introduced the Equivalent Means system. Basically, the system rewards paralegals who’ve put the hard yards in over the years.
With a limited number of Training Contracts each year, it’s natural that many people with the potential to be great solicitors fall through the net.
The system now means that it really does pay to be a paralegal – the work you complete can be used to demonstrate that you’ve got what it takes to be a solicitor.
But don’t be fooled! The Equivalent Means system is not a short-cut. Only experienced paralegals are eligible. That means you’re going to need at least two years in the job if you’re even going to get a sniff.
If you just want to get on and practice law it might be worth considering a career as Legal Executive. It costs a lot less than the Equivalent Means route and lets you get really specific in one practice area.
The Alternative Option: Becoming a Senior Paralegal
I don’t know who needs to hear this but – the world doesn’t revolve around Training Contracts.
If you’re enjoying life as a paralegal, there’s no reason to stop. In fact, career paralegals are incredibly popular with big law firms. As a career paralegal, you’ll get to specialise in a particular practice area, handle more end-to-end work and earn a pretty good salary too.
After three years you can expect a salary between £30,000 to £40,000. And by the time you’ve spent the good part of a decade in the job, you can even earn higher.
Final Thought: You’ve Got This!
Paralegal work can be relentlessly rewarding. It can be terribly tiring. It can be exhilaratingly. But it will always allow you to make the best possible start to your legal career.
It makes for a great CV and gives you the perfect headstart. It will be challenging but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
And Now Time to Remind You About How Great Jump Is…
We work with some of the UK’s most successful law firms and know what it takes to secure the best paralegal jobs.
Jump is the virtual career advisor that reads your CV and get’s to know your working preferences, including how far you’re prepared to commute.
By getting to know you, Jump matches you with your ideal paralegal jobs – there’s no fuss and no hassle. It only takes a minute to sign up and for the platform to start receiving personalised matches.
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