At a recent university law careers fair, I was asked by a first year law student whether prior experience as a paralegal would help them secure a training contract and if having this experience would give them an advantage over other candidates.
I explained to them that I worked at Woodfines as a paralegal in a number of different departments before I applied for a training contract position. I, like many other LPC graduates, was still searching for a training contract after graduating and was grateful to gain as much experience in a law firm as I possibly could.
I had heard the various arguments that working as a paralegal does not offer much benefit for applications and people had told me that networking early on to find summer placements would be more beneficial. There is a need in every law firm for good gearing between fee earners and support staff and, as being a paralegal is a legitimate career path in its own right, becoming a paralegal before applying for a training contract is not a guaranteed stepping stone to further your career. However, I would argue that my time as a paralegal has only been a beneficial experience.
Traditionally a paralegal would undertake a supporting role; however the lines are becoming increasingly blurred and it is common for paralegals to take on fee earning work. I believe that it helped me develop my writing and communication skills, as well as my ability to research and solve legal problems which are skills invaluable to a trainee solicitor. Being a paralegal is a good way to put the knowledge and skills which are taught during education into practice in the workplace and ultimately that is the aim of a training contract.
Being able to experience various areas of law ahead of my training contract provided me with a taste of areas of law I may not otherwise have been able to engage in, and has given me a better idea of what I am interested in when it comes to choosing my seats. It has also offered a valuable insight into the day to day life in a law firm and the many differences between studying and practicing law.
I found that working as a paralegal also made the internal training contract application far easier. Everything I have read about submitting applications has advised that the application should be tailored to the firm. Carrying out proper research into a firm is always a good idea, but working for a firm will inevitably provide an insight that will enable you to tailor your answers better than someone without the same experience.
I feel that my work as a paralegal was definitely a valuable foot in the door which gave me the experience that I needed to move my career forward. However, it is not the case that every trainee will need years of paralegal experience under their belt before securing a training contract; it is still entirely possible to secure a position directly after the LPC. But with the competition being so fierce for training contract places, paralegal experience is becoming increasingly common and can be used to strengthen your skill set until you can secure a position.