I recently had to examine a CV where the applicant had categorised four years of their experience as being employed as a ‘paralegal’. Another year of experience was listed under the job title ‘secretary’. However, the daily duties involved in this year were more descriptive of a paralegal role than that of a secretary.
Many people are performing tasks day in, day out, not realising that what they are doing may class them as a ‘paralegal’. And it is clear that many employers do not actually know what a paralegal is, and what they do.
There are numerous reasons why this should be important to you (and to employers). Firstly, it gives you status and the clients that you may work with will be impressed and hopefully have more confidence in you and your employer. It also gives you an opportunity to join a professional membership body such as NALP which is the foremost paralegal membership body in the UK, and that looks good on any CV. Furthermore, from an employer’s perspective, to have NALP recognised ‘paralegals’ working in-house presents a more professional image to customers.
Why don’t employers realise they are employing paralegals?
There is a misconception that ‘paralegals’ are just law graduates who are waiting for a training contract or for an opportunity to complete the solicitors’ qualifying experience. In their minds, therefore, you cannot be described as a ‘paralegal’ if you do not fulfil these criteria.
This is, of course, not correct. A ‘paralegal’ is an individual who has been trained and educated to perform legal tasks. They need not necessarily be a law graduate or training to be a solicitor or barrister. However, they may have been trained as a paralegal, or in-house, to perform certain ‘legal’ tasks.
There are plenty of paralegals who may well be qualified barristers or intend to become so, but for whatever reason, they are not practising. Maybe they have been unable to gain a pupillage or a training contract to be a solicitor. Instead, they may take on job roles as ‘paralegals’, or alternatively, set up in practice as a Paralegal Practitioner running their own firm.
Generally, there are plenty of people beavering away in-house, in all sorts of organisations in both public and private sectors who are performing legal tasks and who have knowledge of practice and procedure but who are not given the recognition they deserve.
What makes someone a paralegal?
If duties include work such as, answering phone calls and emails, opening files and filing documents then it is more likely than not to be a role of a secretary. However, as soon as you get into the realms of ‘legal research’, ‘legal drafting’ and ‘interviewing clients’ then clearly it holds more responsibility and as such can be construed to be more of a paralegal job role than anything else, as it requires legal know-how and knowledge of legal research and skills as well as legal procedure.
How do you recognise if you are a paralegal?
There is a simple answer to that. Does the work you do involve any sort of legality? For example, are you involved in drafting or reviewing commercial contracts or employment contracts? Do you do any legal research to assist someone in your department? Are you involved in compliance or regulation involving ensuring that statutory criteria are met and adhered to? Are you involved in reviewing documents in relation to childcare proceedings?
If the answer to any of these questions is affirmative, then you could be a paralegal (the list of examples is not exhaustive).
About the Author: Amanda Hamilton, Patron, National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
Amanda Hamilton is Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.