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What is a Paralegal?

A Paralegal is not a qualified lawyer but is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer assistance. The term can refer to a variety of support staff working within a legal practice with differing levels of experience. A legal secretary, for example, may, in addition to secretarial work, undertake paralegal work. Similarly, a law graduate seeking a training contract or obtaining qualifying work experience will carry out this role following some initial training.

A Paralegal position can either be a fulfilling career choice in itself or alternatively provide a period of vital training and experience for those wishing to become a qualified lawyer.

What services does a Paralegal provide?

Depending on the level of experience, a Paralegal can do many of the activities that a qualified lawyer can do.

A Paralegal will progress a case from start to finish carrying out tasks such as legal research, preparation of legal documents, interviewing clients and taking instructions and providing general legal advice. The work of a Paralegal is however carried out under the supervision of a qualified lawyer.

A Paralegal cannot undertake “Reserved Legal Activities” as provided for by the Legal Services Act 2007 which limits the work a Paralegal is permitted to do.

Where does a Paralegal work?

Paralegals work in a variety of environments, from private companies, law firms and the police to local government and the courts.

Common areas of practice for paralegals include:

  • Conveyancing
  • Personal injury
  • Debt recovery
  • Criminal law

A Paralegal can choose to continue to build up experience in the particular area of law in which they practise to obtain a Senior Paralegal Role or undertake the necessary qualifications to become a qualified lawyer (Solicitor, Barrister, Chartered Legal Executive, Licensed Conveyancer or Licensed Probate Practitioner etc.)

A Paralegal is not regulated by statute. A Paralegal can, however, be a member of a professional body such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).

A Paralegal can obtain a licence through the NALP following which they can offer legal services directly to their clients (except for immigration or conveyancing work).