The Third Type of Lawyer: Legal Executives

For many, attaining the status of ‘qualified lawyer’ is a dream and aspiration.

What with the inherent issues of legal education and training in the 21st century, for many that remains just that- a dream. However long they chase it for, it rarely seems to happen.

Traditional routes as solicitor or barrister seem overly competitive and laborious to break into. However, there is another way to train as a lawyer; by studying to be a legal executive.

The Solicitors Managing Clerks’ Association was formed 1892, training senior clerks to have some legal knowledge. With law firms in the middle of the century relying increasingly on senior and experienced clerks (similar to the modern paralegal), their legal training became increasingly more detailed and in depth. Effectively, those senior clerks and administrators became lawyers in their own right. This was finally recognised in 1963, where, in conjunction with, and with the approval of, the Law Society, the old Association became the Institute of Legal Executives, training senior and managing law clerks to effectively become lawyers. This expanded, and took off over the intervening decades, and effectively created a third way to train and qualify as a lawyer As a reflection of the Legal Executives’ status, 2012 saw the Institute of Legal Executives become Chartered (CILex).

Studying as a Legal Executive is much more practical, and hands on. Whilst learning legal theory and principles, the way the course is run and examined is a lot more practical. The vital legal skill of applying the law is learned the hard way, with the student practicing applying the law, and actually carrying put tasks such as conveyancing.

Unlike the traditional solicitors’ or barristers’ route, much of a legal executive’s training is done by putting the law into practice. To successfully qualify as a legal executive, it is mandatory for three years of work to be undertaken at a law firm, in a relevant capacity. As such, whilst solicitors and barristers are learning about the Land Registry and the relevant legislation surrounding registering land- the legal executive is already tearing their hair out in actually registering land, and checking details with the land registry prior to qualifying.

The result is s course of study that is more practical, and perhaps more robust than the traditional classroom learning of legal study previously. Studying to be a legal executive, with part time and distance learning, and practical experience is very much learning law for the 21st Century; it is a very modern approach to a very traditional profession.

Amongst its advantages is speed. Law graduates can wait for years in jumping through the various hoops of legal education and training. Law school, LPC or BPTC, training contact or pupillage; each stage takes time and effort, and there is never any certainty as regards progressing onto the next stage. CILex takes a totally different approach. There are essentially two levels to their studies, which can be studied at a time and pace to suit the student. Usually, however, the academic studies take two to three years. Aside from that, there are three years practical work experience in la law firm. Fulfilling those criteria means that the student becomes a fully qualified Legal Executive- a qualified lawyer, by another name. Indeed, very few of the general public will be able to tell the difference between Legal Executive and Lawyer.

Admittedly, though, the legal executive is a specialist in a few areas, and has a few restrictions imposed upon them. However, what with recent changes, and taking possible future trends into consideration, it is highly likely that those restrictions as will be lifted as the profession becomes increasingly similar to that of a solicitor or barrister. Higher rights of audience, greater job choice and flexibility will inevitably over time come the way of the Legal Executive. Indeed, it was only in 2010 that a Fellow of CILex, Ian Ashley-Smith was appointed a Deputy District Judge on the South Eastern Circuit. With rules concerning judicial appointments being relaxed as of November 2008, Mr Ashley Smith is but the first of many more judges drawn from Legal Executives.

Additionally, studying law, and working to become a lawyer, brings with it a great deal of debt, and is a very expensive choice of career. Not so with legal executives. For the course of study, and the fees imposed by CILex, the student pays on average £7,600. NUS estimates that students will graduate with debts of around £20,000- £30,000. For law students, the cost of the BPTC or LPC has to be added to that figure. Indeed, another attraction of the legal executive route is that you earn whilst working in practice whilst studying. Financially, it is by far the better option- which is why many potential lawyers are looking at the CILex more, and indeed choosing the CILex route.

Despite the positives of becoming a legal executive, there are currently restrictions to the areas of law available to legal executives, and barriers to practice. The major concern is that the rest of the profession, by and large, still does not know how to deal with the (relatively) new branch of the legal profession. Over time, however, that will change, as legal executives get more status, rights and recognition.

For those considering a legal carer, or for the paralegal aspiring to be a lawyer, CILex offers very good route to attaining that elusive ‘qualified lawyer’ status. Whilst considering how to become a lawyer, it is well worth considering the merits of training as a Legal Executive instead.

Confidence, Appearances and the Sucessful Paralegal

The role and job description of a paralegal has changed greatly over the last decade. Previous generations of legal secretaries would be bewildered and amazed at the scope and variety that their role encompasses now.

The most recent change is that, in several (but by no means all) areas of law, caseworkers (essentially, paralegals…) are now able to manage cases from start to finish. Sometimes, this will include court appearances and representing clients before magistrate or tribunals.

As such, modern paralegals (and those considering the profession) should be advised to brush up on their advocacy skills. Learning how to effectively argue a legal position in court, how to present a case, court etiquette, debating and public speaking skills are only a few things which the modern paralegal needs to consider before standing up in that courtroom.

Before making that bow to the magistrate, paralegals should bear in mind one often important aspect of public speaking; appearances. How are you appearing in that courtroom?

Are you, the caseworker representing your client, calm and confident? Are you looking the judge in the eye, or avoiding his eagle gaze? Are you speaking too fast? When asked a question on the case, or face opposition or a convincing counter argument from the other side, do you wilt under the scrutiny and pressure- or do you confidently hold your ground, and come up with an answer? After all, any answer will often do, as long as it is given with confidence and sincerity.

That aura of confidence (or appearing as confident) is absolutely key and vital. For a paralegal, having the self-assurance and self-confidence before a judge, in a conference, in a presentation, is vital. Indeed, often the appearance of being a legal expert, the appearance of being knowledgeable and on top of form, can go a very long way.

When managing a case, either on paper or in discussions or correspondence with the other side- or indeed even in court- if the client has a losing position legally, an air of confidence can take the advocate far in furthering the client’s case or position. A bail application made on shaky grounds which would normally be rejected can actually be successful if made calmly, without stress or emotion, and with great authority and quiet determination. If made in such a manner that assumes that the application will be granted, in a style that does not invite scrutiny, a weak legal application or case can often prove to be successful.

Conversely, a paralegal who has excellent legal submissions, a wealth of evidence, whose client’s case fulfils all the relevant legal criteria, can actually be undone. A stutter, not engaging with the judge, constantly referring to their notes, simply not being a good public speaker, being intimidated by the formal, legal surroundings will all help to undermine an otherwise strong case.

If the presentation of a legal position is weak, then the audience will often assume that the legal submission itself is weak- even if that is not the case at all. Both paralegal and client alike will end up leaving court empty handed in such a situation.

All because of that one overlooked factor- a confident demeanour and attitude.

How are you appearing to the interviewer?

How are you appearing to the interviewer?

Appearances also count when applying for legal jobs. After getting through to a face to face interview (well done; getting even that far is an achievement these days), a good candidate on paper (top of their class, president of the chess club, expert mooter, and so on) can be very much let down by themselves. If they happen to be one of those people (of which the vast number of job applicants are) who quite simply does not interview well, or is unable to sell themselves and their (undoubted) ability- then that interviewee will not get the job.

Despite being a perfect candidate, because they did not come across as confident and articulate in interview, the job will go to someone who can interview well. That candidate will come across as confident and articulate, and will engage the interviewer. That candidate will have that spark of personality, social ability and ease which will get them hired- and which will take them far in life.

The irony (and concern, perhaps) is that that second, confident candidate is often not that ideal after all. Although very personable, and exuding a sense of authority and knowledge, with an air of being a legal maestro, there are other abilities needed to be a paralegal. Probably their academic and legal knowledge is not up to scratch. Perhaps their ability to apply the law is weak. Such application is absolutely vital to any legal practitioner; the application of the law to the given case, the ability to judge legal situations, that makes a paralegal a paralegal, as opposed to a laymen with access to legal information.

Perhaps, that first candidate, nervous and shy as they were, was the better one to hire. Although stuttering during the interview, and looking away nervously, underneath that exterior lies a minefield of legal knowledge. Their mind, although easily intimidated, is able to easily get to the root of any legal problem, and to analyse and apply the relevant legal principles. Despite such legal aptitude and ability, it was that second, self-assured and assertive candidate, that was presentable and engaging, that was actually hired over the must better candidate. Due to an inability to be assertive, and to sell their legal abilities to the interviewer, the first, ideal candidate, lost out.

As in law, in life. In life, appearances count, more than many people think. Indeed, a large number of studies show just how much appearances can influence other people. This applies not just in the legal arena and profession.

As mentioned above, the innately human way that appearances count can prove awkward in law. The 21st century paralegal would be well advised to bear this in mind- especially when making their bow to the judge.

 

Advocacy; not just for Barristers

When the word ‘advocacy’ is mentioned, for many in the legal world is brings back unpleasant memories of standing up in class, mock trials, moots, or similar and presenting a line of legal argument. For others in the industry, memories of advocacy courses are brought to mind, of lessons learned that they never actually put into practice.

Some, though, remember learning advocacy with a smile. Some put advocacy into practice on a regular basis; barristers.

After many centuries of advocacy being the sole preserve of the barrister’s profession. That is all changing as the UK legal industry enters the 21st Century. 2014 sees those who argue their client’s case before a judge, magistrate or tribunal not necessarily wearing a wig and gown.

Firstly, the last decade or so has seen the rise of the solicitor advocate. These are qualified solicitors who are certified to appear in court. As an indication of their increasing significance in the legal profession, many have become QC’s or even judges. Indeed, some solicitor advocates have gained a great reputation in their respective fields, such as Andrew Hopper QC (regulatory), June Venters QC (family law) and Michael Caplan QC (extradition). Lord Collins was one of the first Justices of the new Supreme Court- and was himself a solicitor advocate. It is now also possible for legal executives (the third and lesser known branch of the legal profession, whose training is no less rigourous and demanding) to represent clients in court.

In in some areas of law (e.g. family and immigration), some ‘caseworkers’ (essentially paralegals) are permitted to appear in court and to represent their own clients. Admittedly, though, the rights of appearance of legal executives and caseworkers are relatively limited, but the fact of the matter is that they both can practice advocacy, and indeed regularly do so.

That last fact is both exciting and awful for the paralegal of the 21st century. For many, the prospect of advocacy fills them with dread. For those who welcome the challenge, and who enjoy public speaking, and performing in court, the role of a paralegal takes on a new dimension.

Additionally, the introduction of (limited rights of) court appearance for the caseworker/paralegal of the 21st century shows just how far the role has come from being  a mere legal secretary in the past. The role of the paralegal has grown in scope, variety and importance.

Recent years have seen paralegals manage cases more and more, to the extent that some solicitors mainly just represent their clients in hearings and conferences, with paralegals/caseworkers doing most of the case management. With some paralegals/caseworkers now being able to go to court on their client’s behalf, now paralegals can actually manage and take charge of their own cases from initial interview to final court hearing (in some cases).

For better or for worse, advocacy is no longer the sole preserve of barristers, who spent time and effort learning advocacy and refine this knowledge and skill by putting it into practice in court. Some, like the great barristers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, or colourful barristers such as George Carman QC or Michael Mansfield QC turn advocacy into an art form that looks effortless, impressive and theatrical. Admittedly, the bar has overall been very accepting of this change, and has taken it in its stride- but the sentiment at the bar is still very much that advocacy is a barrister’s work.

Advocacy; no wigs required in the modern day

Advocacy; no wigs required in the modern day

With limited rights of appearance now being given to paralegals in some instances, advocacy is yet another skill for the eager paralegal to master. Whether encountered in law school, or learned on the job by someone entering the profession from a different field or industry, the modern paralegal has to master the art of standing up in court and representing their client- and trying to avoid being ripped to pieces before a judge by a barrister whose speciality advocacy is, and who is understandably suspicious of the non- barrister advocate appearing in a court.

Times are changing in the modern legal profession. The eager paralegal had better be prepared to put advocacy into practice to best take advantage of all that this exciting and varied profession has to offer.

 

 

Legal Drafting; a vital paralegal skill

There has been recent scandal surrounding the fact that letters granting immunity from prosecution were sent to various members of the IRA.

The Good Friday Agreement arranged for the early release of terrorists already imprisoned or convicted; however, the agreement did not cover terrorist suspects, or those who had escaped either prison or trial. It is those ‘on the run’ terrorists that the secret letters were sent to, seemingly giving them immunity from prosecution if caught.

This came to public light after the trial of John Downey, accused of being behind the Hyde Park attacks in 1982, was stopped by Mr Justice Sweeney after the produced a letter from 2007 stating that he had been granted immunity from prosecution over the matter.

The letter went on to state that “there are no warrants in existence, nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charging by police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you by any other police force.”

After consideration, Mr Justice Sweeney ruled that the trial had to be stopped in the light of such (apparent) immunity from prosecution.

Setting aside the moral and ethical issues surrounding the ‘On The Run’ letters given to 187 IRA suspected or wanted terrorists, they are a remarkable piece of legal drafting.

Although the exact wording and contents remains unknown, what is known shows that the carefully worded letters do not specifically grant immunity for past crimes- but in effect they do.

Evidence suggests that the letters state that “Following a review of your case by the [DPP], he has concluded that on the evidence before him there is insufficient to afford a realistic prospect of convicting you for any such offence arising out of…” The letters then go on to say that “You would not therefore face prosecution for any such offence should you return to the United Kingdom. That decision is based on the evidence currently available. Should such fresh evidence arise – and any statement made by you implicating yourself in… may amount to such evidence – the matter may have to be reconsidered.”

Legally, the letters are very clever. Whilst not granting automatic immunity, that this is what they confer. However, that can be taken away if fresh or compelling evidence arises. The letters also specifically refer to a certain crime or event, leaving the way open for arrest and trial on other charges.

Additionally, the phrase ‘insufficient [evidence] to afford a realistic prospect of convicting you’ is key. It neither confirms nor contradicts the suspect’s guilt in the matter, and refers merely to the important fact that criminal cases are only brought to trial if the Crown is confident in a conviction. If there is insufficient evidence, the CPS will decline to prosecute, and will focus its efforts and resources on cases where the possibility of conviction is greater. It is a very clever way of the legal system of avoiding what would be a politically sensitive and charged trial, on perfectly lawful and legal principles.

Although controversial and very questionable in ethics and morality, the letters themselves are an example of clever legal drafting.

Paralegals are faced with legal drafting on a regular, often daily, basis. Regular drafting makes the paralegal skilled at writing such letters, opinions, court submissions and representations.

Legla drafting; a skill and an art form invaluable to the paralegal

Knowing how to phrase legal opinions, or how to effectively communicate a legal position on paper, is a key skill in the legal profession, for paralegals and lawyers alike. Although matters of legal fact and legal opinion have to be set down and expressed, it is a skill and an art form in knowing both what areas of the client’s case to downplay, and what areas of the case to stress to the client’s advantage. After all, it is the absolute legal duty and obligation of the legal profession to represent their client to the best of their ability and effort, regardless of emotions, morality or culpability. Clever and articulate legal drafting of letters and submissions is but one method used.

When it comes to legal drafting, this often falls to the paralegal. Experience teaches the paralegal how to draft legal letters to get the maximum effect for their client’s case. Although not able to produce a letter granting immunity from prosecution, a cleverly and carefully drafted legal submission or opinion can, in effect, make that happen.

As such, legal drafting is an essential skill for a good paralegal to master; after all, never underestimate the sheer power of simple words.

 

 

The International Advantages of Being a Paralegal

Recent figures show that the number of Australians in the UK is less than in previous years. Indeed, the number of Australian working visas and similar issued has also declined in recent years. The Home Office has issued less than 15, 000 working holiday visas to Australians since 2006, a decline of nearly 50%. Between 2011 and 2012, the Office of National Statistics reported a drop of almost 10, 000 Australians living in the UK.

Not only are there now fewer Australians in the UK to exchange sporting banter with, their unique cultural and social input is also being lost. Several Australian themed or centred bars and similar are closing due to declining numbers of Australians. Many Australian high flyers and professionals have also emigrated to the UK (either temporarily or permanently) over the years; many are now returning home, or not coming to the UK in the numbers that they used to. That economic contribution will be missed.

On the economy, given the current strong Australian dollar, Australians in the UK no longer have to work so hard to make the money necessary to support their lifestyle or travels in the UK or EU. The financial incentive to live and work in the UK is no longer there, as they can benefit from a strong Australian dollar in their travels.

Whilst many Australians are returning home, and many not even leaving Australia, it is worth realising and remembering that paralegals can do the same. If the current flooding, gloomy weather, gloomy career prospects, lifestyle and cost of living in the UK no longer seem comforting, bear in mind that experienced paralegals- especially those with qualifications-can emigrate with comparative ease.

The experience and skills of a paralegal- and, being realistic, many paralegals now have advanced academic or legal qualifications- makes it relatively easy for them to find a similar role in different jurisdictions. After all, the skill set is very much the same across the world. Many firms, for example, might specialise in personal injury law and litigation, such as the No Win No Fee Claim Co. Although the nature of personal injury law will vary between jurisdictions, administrative tasks, and duties such as starting, filing and processing a personal injury claim, and seeing the claim go to court (or successfully arbitrated) are very similar around the world. Once the procedures around personal injury law are familiar to a paralegal who handles many such cases regularly, then that knowledge and ability can be applied and used in most other jurisdictions. Given the global reach and scope of the legal profession in 2014, such a move abroad is not uncommon for legal administrators and similar roles.

An experienced paralegal will find that their knowledge and insight of the industry makes it relatively easy for them to move to different countries; however, this will take a lot of time and planning. However, financial and legal professionals are often highly valued and sought after abroad, and the journey through immigration is often easier for such professionals. As such, paralegals will often always be welcome abroad. It is essential, though to check to see whether there are any prerequisites or qualifications that are needed. It might be necessary to be part of a specific regulatory body or association, or to sit a certain exam. With that successfully completed, many legal offices abroad will be very interested in what a foreign trained paralegal can offer. Indeed, in a non-English speaking country, your knowledge of English could itself be a great asset to the firm, and make you very employable abroad. Research is essential, and the key to starting as a paralegal in a new jurisdiction.

With research and planning, and a lot of time and effort, a new life abroad beckons for experienced paralegals. In most cases, the time and effort put into making a new life abroad happen is absolutely worth it. With time and effort, you the experienced paralegal can join those Australians returning Down Under- or can travel to many exotic places, on the strength of your experiences and skill set as a paralegal.

This January for Paralegals

Impressive- but is there a claim in this?

Impressive- but is there a claim in this?

As people return to their desks this January, nursing the usual New Year’s hangover, after concluding cases left over from 2013, the first batch of cases and the related workload about to descend upon paralegals could well be litigation or other legal matters arising from  the recent bad weather.

The damage to property and businesses caused by power cuts, floods and similar will be immeasurable, as will the disruption to families and businesses caused by the storms veering in from the Atlantic over the last few weeks. That omits the great many contracts that were unavoidably breacged or otgerwise not fulfilled due to practicalities with the bad weather.

All of sudden, paralegals will have to deal with a variety of claims, ranging from insurance to personal injury, to disrupted travel arrangements. Once again, the sheer variety of work encountered by paralegals is evident. Given that fee earners will be relying on their  paralegals to advise them of tbe various applicable legal issues inter alia, once again the importance of a good paralegal cannot be stressed enough.

Tbe legal issues arising from the recent storms and floods, be it broken contracts or personal injury, illustrates the need for paralegals to be up to date and knowledgeable about many varied areas of law, so that they can effectively tackle any claim or case that crosses their desk.

Similarly, the recent weather also demonstrates the need for paralegals not to be so narrowly focussed on their legal work, their firm, their area of expertise, and related. Taking time to look out of the office, and  to keep up with current affairs and ongoing major events, can be more than just a diversion from drafting another case. It can be your next case.

Expecting a regular January workload upon returning to the law offices, nany paralegals were probably confronted with an increased, or at keast varied, workload due to legal matters arusubg from the weather and flooding. At time of writing, the weather and flooding is not letting up- and neither will the legal workload needed in the aftermath.

The weather and subsequent legal work also shows the need for paralegals to be flexible and adaptable- be it to last minute submissions, new evidence that turns up- or rainfall that turns the West Coast  into a vast lake.

It is easy to neglect or ignore the world around you at large, due to the pressures, pace, demands and 24 hour lifestyle of paralegals. Take the effort not to be so neglectful, and to take an interest. It can be very useful, if only to break up the routines and tasks of the average paralegal’s working day, working on endless legal actions, be they brought on the recent bad weather or not. Indeed, those happenings in the world around you can end up in your office, on your desk, to be assessed and a case file opened within the hour. Of such is life as a paralegal.

Christmas: time for festive cheer and career reflection

As December comes around once again, another year moves towards a close. It is time for the inevitable drunken office parties, trying to clear your desk before the New Year, and reflecting on the year gone past, with its successful (or not so) cases.

Many paralegals realise that December is a time of endings- and beginnings. Indeed, beginnings and endings are part of the Christmas story. Many paralegals desire more or varied work, roles and responsibilities. Indeed, with the current state of legal recruitment and training, many paralegals have advanced legal qualifications and aspire to be lawyers.

Given this drive and determination of many paralegals, it is never too early to start planning your career. It is never too early to start planning for that advancement, for your next step on the paralegal career ladder- or to making those steps to qualify as a lawyer.

For the ambitious, being a paralegal is intensely rewarding, as currently the paralegal profession offers unrivalled opportunities, variety and challenges. Another advantage of a paralegal career is the opportunity to shape and develop your career the way you, the paralegal, wants. With such opportunity, flexibility, and prospects, though, comes a lot of hard work- away from the case load on your desk.

Amidst the season of goodwill and festive cheer, Christmas carols and mulled wine, take a few moments to pause. Consider where you are as a paralegal, and where you want to be, as a paralegal or in a different legal role. Reflect on where you are in your own set of plans, dreams, aspirations and ambitions. How far, or how close, are you to fulfilling those dreams and plans as winter draws 2013 to a close?

If the answer to the above is that you the paralegal are still far off those dreams and ambitions, then now is the time to take action. Start planning, researching and set things up before that time of festive cheer away from the office. Upon returning in the New Year, start straight away, with determination, not only in tackling a never ending case load and administrative burden, but in getting your career dreams realised, and in working towards that next goal, be it more responsibilities or working in an new company, or a total change of career direction.

It is well worth talking to your company’s HR department about future ambitions and prospects. Getting a career coach can be another worthy idea. If seeking a new job entirely, then getting your CV before specialist legal recruitment consultants (such as Michael Paige or Douglas Scott) is a must, as is researching and applying to other law firms. Such recruitment consultants can also advise in depth those seeking a change of legal career.

 Indeed, with many large firms now having an in house legal team, perhaps working for a different industry in their legal department might be of great interest. Alternatively, those working in that area might prefer to working in a strictly legal atmosphere, and want to start seeking vacancies and opportunities in the strictly legal sector.

CPD, used these days by many leading law firms, can be a valuable tool in advancing a paralegal’s career- if utilised fully. Indeed, the Institute of Paralegals (one of the sector’s regulatory bodies) offers a comprehensive CPD program. Due to the nature of the training and education, CILEX might also be a serious consideration of many a paralegal. All of those, and other career advancing tools, take a great deal of effort, time and focus, though- almost as much as running that paralegal desk.

At this time of year, enjoy the festive season fully, reflect on the past year, with its ups and downs- but consider the challenges to come of the New Year. Ask questions of yourself and your direction, plan your career carefully, and enjoy the opportunities inherent in working in the paralegal sector.

The Paralegal Role in 2013; more than a legal secretary

What with changes in the legal profession in the 21st Century, being a paralegal is both an exciting, rewarding and very varied field. Recent changes have seen great expansion and growth in the paralegal sector. The current opportunities available to paralegals (such as training contracts for LPC graduates) create a varied, challenging and exciting profession to go into.

The scope and variety of a paralegal’s job description can be demanding, and the duties and tasks are very varied. An example of such duties is compensation claims. Following the banking scandals of recent years, and the rise of the ‘compensation culture’ that some commentators have seen occur, compensation claims are regularly made by law firms on behalf of clients.

Quite often, paralegals will do all of the administrative tasks and get the claim properly started, as well as overseeing its progress, and making sure that everything has been done properly. In such a case, a paralegal would often be expected to assist with the initial paperwork, file the claim correctly, liaise with the various parties, follow up with the claim as it is handled by the legal system, and well as performing any routine administrative or organisational duties as required for the case.

Although not considering and offering advice on the compensation claim itself, paralegals will handle the case day to day, and ensure that what is decided by fee earner and client actually happens. Keeping the relevant records, paperwork and correspondence of the claim documented and filed may not be the glamorous side of the law- but it is an important aspect of the profession, as it allows the fee earners to make rapid and accurate assessments of the case if the information is all to hand and clearly organised. A properly organised, documented and filed claim can also avoid delays and confusion.

Admittedly routine, such claims are but part of the variety of work that can cross a paralegal’s desk on a given day. Indeed, paralegals might often have several such claims ongoing at any one time, amidst all their other tasks in supporting fee earners. The ability to multi task and prioritise is key to being an efficient paralegal. A good memory also helps; being able to advise and brief your fee earner in the essential details or current progress of a case is invaluable.

Current changes to the paralegal role means that increasingly paralegals are been given more responsibility and authority. More routine matters such as compensation claims are ending up on their desks as opposed to that of fee earners, after the analysis and legal decision has been made. In order that fee earners can move on to other cases, paralegals can often see the whole compensation claim case through in its entirety, and be mostly responsible for it.

More responsibility and increasingly more challenging work. What was formerly dismissed as a glorified secretarial role is now anything but, and is a very well respected role in any law firm, as well as giving a rewarding, structured and challenging career.

The paralegal profession for career changers

There are a good many reason as to why people embark upon a career change- and some not so good. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that such a move from a familiar industry and environment into a new field is very bold, and speaks volumes for the career changer. A successful career change takes great tenacity, hard work, and drive.

The growing flexibility of the 21st century workforce and career structure means that 2013 sees quite a large number of people deciding to change careers.  Career changing into the legal profession is relatively popular; the perception of a legal career is that it gives job stability and security upon qualifying.  Although long and arduous, the training and studying necessary to becoming a lawyer is very flexible.

Whilst a great many consider a career as a lawyer, there are other jobs in the legal profession- of which the paralegal role expanding and growing. For potential lawyers, it is very much worth considering changing jobs to a paralegal role first. Such a role will give the potential lawyer invaluable insight and experience into the legal workplace. Such a role can also be a start in the legal industry, without committing time, money and energy in a demanding profession that is not for everyone. Indeed, if set upon a career as a lawyer, then many firms (especially larger City and international firms) will encourage and assist with training leading to becoming a lawyer.

Alternatively, the career changer should consider becoming a paralegal, being as it is today a challenging, varied, respected and rewarding profession in its own right. Additionally, now is a good time to change careers to a being a paralegal, as the role is expanding and developing. Paralegals are no longer mere assistants or legal secretaries; rather, they have greater responsibilities and duties. An invaluable part of any law firm, paralegals today have a very wide and varied job role, have a great knowledge of legal processes, and are very well respected in the industry. Indeed, some even have their own clients.

It is likely that the sector will eventually (but no time soon) be regulated like solicitors, barristers and legal executives. Currently, the profession is not regulated, but the Institute of Paralegals and the National Association of licenced Paralegals provide a (self) regulatory framework, training guidelines, career structure and standards. As the profession expands in importance and job role, it is likely that a regulatory body and set of regulations will be drawn up. This is a reflection of the growing significance of paralegals. Evidently, it is an exciting time to start as a paralegal; the self regulatory bodies can be useful in providing information to the career changer as to the nature of the role, training, qualifications, career paths, and similar.

The other good news for career changers is that there are few entry requirements. However, the reality is that many recruiters and firms are now only hiring those with at least an LPC, or with several years experience. Whilst mentioning entry requirements, any formal qualifications or experience in business, administration, or related fields will enhance your application. Career changers would be strongly advised to seek such experience or qualifications.

Despite the seeming need for advanced legal qualifications, although problematical, this is not such a barrier. Coming from a related background or field will help a paralegal job application. Indeed, some firms like the maturity and the varied experiences and skillset that a career change will bring- but admittedly such firms are very rare. Studying the LPC will put you on a level playing field with the majority of other applicants- but to get to that stage requires a lot of investment in time, studying and money. However, what the career changer may lack in legal knowledge and experience, employers like the maturity, life experiences, and the varied skillset that the career changer does have.

Aside from applying directly (or via agencies or recruitment consultants) for paralegal jobs in this overly competitive job market, there are other approaches. Try applying to large companies to work ‘in house’ in their legal department, for example. Such a role will give the career changer invaluable insight and experience of the paralegal world.

Paralegals fulfill a very demanding, challenging, and stimulating role. Paralegals have much responsibility, and are very well respected in the industry. The nature of paralegal recruitment, training and entry to the profession makes it an ideal role for the career changer. Indeed, whether a stepping stone to training as a lawyer, or a second career in its own right, the nature of the role is perfect for those considering a career change into the legal industry.

New Paralegal – How to write your CV

Newly qualified paralegals that are on the job hunt must have a well written, concise and comprehensive CV in order to attract their potential employers. There are several structural points a new paralegal should stick to when drafting their CV.

The generic things to include are obviously your name, home address, phone number and email address and these should all be laid out at the top of the CV. Try to make your name stand out by making it bold or a larger font than the rest of the CV. Standard fonts should be used, and all fancy or elaborate font usage should be avoided. Also, try to refine your CV to one A4 page if possible, as employers do not want to be reading pages and pages of endless CVs, so keep it short and concise. Quality, not quantity is important here.

The sections that need the sharpest focus on are: Career Objective, Education, Experience, Skills and Other Relevant Experience, if you have any.
1. Career Objective – This will be the first paragraph your potential employers will see, so needs to be impressive and put across your career goal briefly and effectively. If you do not know what area of law you wish to specialise in, write a focus on the objective of general practise of law.
2. Education – This is a crucial section for paralegal hopefuls who have just completed their education. If you have only just finished education and training, this is the section you need to focus on, especially as you will probably be lacking work experience. Indicate your degree or paralegal certificate, the university you graduated from and the date of your graduation. In general, legal firms look for potential employees, who have skills in litigation, law office management and legal research and writing. Expand on your leadership and academic activities here also, such as memberships in student and academic organisations. It is always best to emphasise your leadership involvement and qualities.
3. Experience – This will probably be limited for a new paralegal, but it is not only previous employment that counts as experience. Internships are an excellent feature to have on your CV. Remember to not just list what you have done, but the advantages and things you have learnt and gained from this experience., as well as the duties required of you.
4. Skills – this is the chance to explain special, relevant skills you have not had a chance to mention elsewhere in your CV.