The real questions – the paralegal route

This is part three of the JLD’s three-part mini Q&A series answering your questions about the paralegal route.

This is the final part of the JLD’s three-part mini Q&A series answering your unanswered questions from the JLD’s “Helping you secure a training position” London forum on 5 October 2019.

With the help of our speakers, the JLD Executive Committee explore alternative routes to qualification and how to obtain paralegal work.

"There is no hard and fast rule on the best route to qualification. But with the average age of qualification now standing at 29.5, it seems that the paralegal route is becoming increasingly popular.

As training contracts are difficult to obtain, more and more candidates are seeking interim paralegal work to bolster their experience and, arguably, such numbers will increase with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam.

Personally, I believe that candidates with previous paralegal experience will usually make better trainees as they can hit the ground running. Of course, that is not to say that a lack of previous experience will be held against you in your search for a training position. Everyone must start somewhere and learning on the job can be just as valuable."

Leah Caprani - JLD Executive Committee Member

"Some firms do offer paralegal roles to law graduates who have not yet completed the LPC and will subsequently allow them to complete the LPC part-time while working. However, it is likely that those candidates will need to be able to demonstrate some other work experience which would make them equipped for a paralegal role in practice.

Many law firms now see paralegal experience as extremely favourable and an increasing number of people now work as paralegals before starting a training contract so it is certainly worth looking at paralegal positions if you have not secured a training contract."

Manda Banerji – JLD Vice Chair

"A classic “catch-22” situation – namely you need experience to secure a job, even though it is the job itself which will give you the experience you need. It’s a frustrating cycle, but one which can be broken. I would recommend:

  1. Making the most of your experience, including non-legal work experience - Extract the transferable skills which you have gained from your previous experience and clearly demonstrate how they fit to the role at hand.
  2. Looking for alternative roles and opportunities in law firms – There are an array of non-paralegal support positions available (for example administrative or departmental assistant roles) which could help you get your foot in the door. Not only will you gain first-hand experience of life in a law firm (which you can refer to in future applications), but such roles may also provide you with the opportunity to progress to a paralegal role once you have proven your ability within the firm.
  3. Join a paralegal or recruitment agency – There are several emerging agencies (including F-LEX) which provide short-term paralegal roles in a variety of practice areas. Such experiences will not only show you which type of law you wish to practise, but may help you secure a full-time paralegal role or training position later down the line.
  4. Stay motivated and positive - Rejections are difficult, but try to see each rejection as a learning experience. Take a moment to reflect on your areas for improvement, make a plan and work hard to keep bettering yourself each and every time."

Leah Caprani - JLD Executive Committee Member

"The benefits of the CILEx route:

  • Qualification as a Chartered Legal Executive means that you are automatically exempt from the period of recognised training (i.e. the training contract) required by the SRA
  • You have to be a member of CILEx for at least a year of the process, and you can benefit from the resources and guidance available to you
  • Cost effective
  • CILEx will count your LPC as 9 months towards the necessary 3 years of qualifying work experience
  • You can use experience from multiple employers provided they are all willing to provide a reference
  • The CILEx route has allowed me to stay in the firm and the area of law I love, rather than having to leave to start a training contract or undertake seat rotations
  • The CILEx route allows you to become a specialist in an area of law before you even qualify, rather than only getting six months experience as in most traditional training contracts
  • You don’t need an NQ position promised at the end of the process in order to progress the application – i is possible to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive and seek an NQ role elsewhere if necessary."

Esyllt Martin – Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive at Eversheds Sutherland

"The benefits of the Equivalent Means route:

Ultimately the processes of qualifying via equivalent means and the CILEx route seem fairly similar in that you are responsible for submitting a fair amount of paperwork and there is a greater onus on you to make sure your application is in good shape than there is on those qualifying via a training contract.

The main difference between the CILEx route and equivalent means is that if you qualify through CILEx you will be qualified as a chartered legal executive and if you wish to be qualified as a solicitor you will need to convert your qualification as a chartered legal executive.

The main benefit of equivalent means is that once your application is approved by the SRA you can be admitted to the roll as a qualified solicitor.

The main differences between equivalents means and a training contract are that equivalent means can be undertaken at a number of different firms and the onus is much more on you to prepare the application paperwork than it would be if you were to do a training contract.

The other main difference between equivalent means and CILEx is that under equivalent means there are no examinations, just a form (and supporting evidence) that must be submitted.

However, you will need to do the PSC to qualify as a solicitor whether doing a training contract or equivalent means."

Lena Coombes - Trainee at Kemp Little LLP

"When moving paralegal roles to a different area of law, you will be able to bring transferrable skills that you have developed in your previous role. These include legal research skills, drafting and time management skills. Having already developed these skills in a previous role, you will be able to adapt them to suit the new area of law that you are working in.

If you are in a larger team with multiple paralegals then your colleagues will be a valuable resource in helping you to settle into the new field that you are working in, particularly if they have worked in the area for a number of years. Colleagues such as other paralegals may be able to point you in the direction of useful learning resources.

Online resources can be great at helping you to develop your understanding and websites including Practical Law, LexisNexis and Westlaw can all help you develop your knowledge and provide practice notes that can help provide advice on completing a piece of work.

Some of these resources may require a subscription, so if you do not have access try looking online as often law firms will release articles that can assist in developing your knowledge. 

Organisation is key in any paralegal role and can help benefit your learning and understanding. As your work load increases and becomes more difficult, keep copies of any amendments your supervisor has given you that you think may benefit you in the future.

Keep a file of useful notes and an email folder containing any draft emails you think that you may use repeatedly. This will mean you always have resources to go back to before seeking supervision.

If your firm offer training sessions, then attend these where possible to help increase your legal knowledge in the area of law. This also demonstrates you are proactive in wanting to learn and develop your knowledge. 

Becoming more commercially aware in your sector of law is important to help understand the needs of your client. Setting up alerts to news stories on the internet will help you stay on top of current news. Podcasts, newspapers and networks such as LinkedIn can also help develop your commercial awareness."

Sinéad Mcgrath – JLD Council Member

"I have encountered many barriers on my way to qualification, not least of all the initial disappointment of being rejected for the training contract back in 2016.

As a paralegal working towards qualification via the CILEx route, you have less visibility than a trainee and I had an uphill battle to change perceptions and ensure that I was given the necessary work and experiences to include in my application.

The CILEx application itself is a long, complicated process and at times it felt as though I would never see the end of it. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in this route is securing an NQ position at the end of the process.

Persistence is key and I found that the more you talk about what you are doing, the more likely that those responsible for hiring NQs in your firm will keep you in mind when making those decisions.

I spent three years working towards CILEx without the comfort and security of knowing that I had an NQ role to transition into at the end. Right at the point where I was ready to submit my application, I was lucky enough to be offered an NQ role in the Employment and Immigration team at the Eversheds Sutherland London office.

Once you are qualified, you will find that nobody will distinguish between you and somebody who qualified via the traditional route. In much the same way as once you are in University, nobody cares how you did in your GCSE’s!"

Esyllt Martin – Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive at Eversheds Sutherland

"Having not qualified yet, I’ve not yet hit any barriers as a result of not qualifying via the traditional route.

However, I have taken some precautions to ensure that there are as few differences between the route that I am qualifying by (the equivalent means to the period of recognised training) versus the traditional training contract route. 

I started training in late summer so I am aiming to qualify around September to align with traditional qualification times. If I had started training at the start of the calendar year I might be aiming to qualify in March.

This is because there are practical advantages to being qualified at the same time of year as your peers: yearly reviews and hiring plans are often focused around these times of the year. However, if you are ready to qualify months before March or September that may not be a good enough reason to wait.

You should also remember that there can be a couple of months between first submitting the form and being admitted to the roll.

I have also had my title changed to “Trainee”. This is helpful because: (i) it helps signpost my role to both colleagues and clients; and (ii) I can put “trainee” on my CV/LinkedIn profile. This signals that the quality of the work I do is trainee-standard.

I have set my targets to include tasks that trainees would ordinarily undertake but may not be explicitly required for qualification. This includes:

  • Writing articles
  • Giving training internally
  • Attending networking events
  • Joining committees.

The idea is to help demonstrate that the equivalent means to the period of recognised training is equivalent to a training contract for people that may not be familiar with equivalent means.

It should go without saying that equivalent means is intended to be just that and not a work around but in cases where people are not familiar with the equivalent means process it can be helpful to be able to make this as clear as possible.

The practical steps a person can take will be different for everyone so you should consider what your concerns are and how you can address them.

To the extent you can, I would recommend seeing if someone at your firm will agree to supervise you for the remainder of your application – having senior support has been invaluable to me. It means that I have people to talk to about what training should look like and how that can be done in my firm."

Lena Coombes - Trainee at Kemp Little LLP

"I am a career changer, and so I didn’t start working in a law firm until my late 20s. Because of this, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder to 'catch up'.

This led me to decide to complete the LPC alongside a full-time training contract, rather than before it, and as such I was not able to give my studies the time they really required and therefore did not achieve the grades I perhaps could have. So I imposed a barrier on myself by rushing.

I have also worked closely with colleagues who are trainee chartered legal executives and qualified paralegals, and again the only barrier I have seen them face is self-imposed; they are self-conscious about their knowledge-base and ability because they didn’t complete the 'traditional' route, and this hindered their work.

Law is meritocratic. If you can do the job then you can do the job. Don’t rush, and take your time - the average age for a newly qualified solicitor is now 29.5 years old. The most important skills you will need to be a success in your career are hard work and integrity, and they can’t be taught."

Jonathan Hodge – JLD Executive Committee Member

"This is unfortunately quite common and it is important to recognise that your employer may not be in a position to promise you an NQ position. However, there are options to consider if you find yourself in this position.

You can move to a different firm mid-way through compiling your CILEx application, provided that both firms are willing to sign off on your logbook entries and provide a reference.

In this situation, you would have to submit an application for a qualifying work assessment for both jobs, and as such it is much easier to complete your CILEx portfolio with one employer.

At the point that you have completed and submitted your CILEx work based learning application, there is nothing to prevent you from looking elsewhere for an NQ position.

Employers are becoming increasingly receptive to the CILEx route and a number of my colleagues have joined other firms as a Chartered Legal Executives and later transitioned to NQ Solicitors."

Esyllt Martin – Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive at Eversheds Sutherland

"In practice, it is possible that your firm will wish to keep you on as a paralegal (or in some other capacity). If this is the case you may want to consider whether you would like to continue as a paralegal rather than an associate or if you would prefer to look elsewhere.

If you do wish to look elsewhere you will be applying as an NQ like any other newly qualified solicitor.

In spite of the equivalent means process being equivalent to a training contract it is possible that some firms will not see it as such. Therefore, when applying it may be worth talking to someone in the firms you are interested in applying to. It may also be worth explaining your process in your application.

If a firm is not familiar with the idea a well explained summary of what equivalent means is and why you chose to qualify that way could go a long way to changing their perception of equivalent means.

I would also suggest that, if possible, you discuss what may happen after qualification with your firm in advance of submitting the forms. This should give you a good idea of what your firm is thinking and could also help demonstrate to them that you are interested in qualifying with them (if that is the case).

Whatever the outcome of such a conversation it should help you plan your career path post-qualification."

Lena Coombes - Trainee at Kemp Little LLP

1. Become a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer

For those who have completed their LPC or Bar Professional Training Course, it is possible to enter CILEx as a Graduate member.

To become a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer (Fellow of CILEx) you must have completed the academic stage of training (LPC), been in qualifying employment for at least 3 years (of which at least one must be in the Graduate membership grade of CILEx), and met the work-based learning outcomes. 

Qualifying employment is work that is wholly of a legal nature. You must be undertaking work that is qualifying employment for at least 20 hours per week and also be supervised by an authorised person.

A qualifying employment application form is required to be completed prior to completing the main application form. In addition, a reference is required from a legally qualified person with knowledge of your work.

In order to apply for Fellowship, in addition to providing evidence of your qualifying employment, you must demonstrate that you meet 8 competencies, which have been broken down into 27 learning outcomes.

This process is known as Work Based Learning portfolio. Your completed application and portfolio of evidence will be reviewed to determine whether you have demonstrated the necessary level of experience over an adequate period of time.

2. Applying to the SRA

Once you have become a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer, it is possible to apply to the SRA to become a solicitor, being exempt from the period of recognised training. All you need to apply is:

  • An AD1 application form
  • A DBS certificate
  • A certificate of good standing from CILEx
  • A certified copy of your PSC certificate confirming that you have completed the compulsory modules
  • A certified copy of your LPC certificate"

Esyllt Martin – Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive at Eversheds Sutherland

"Research, understand the route inside out, and tell as many people as you can about it! I originally sent an email around my team, outlining the route in basic terms, and this was enough to start the discussion.

I later created a more detailed document, which outlined each step to qualification, the costs involved, and the likely timescales. This was useful aid in helping my team to understand and trust the process.

It is worth asking around the other paralegals within your firm, as you might find that somebody else is also going down the CILEx route. Having an example you can point to is always a good thing to have and helps get both your team and HR on board.

It is important to communicate throughout the process what you need in terms of experience and development in order to compile your application.I would recommend scheduling regular catch up meetings with your supervisor to demonstrate your progress and identify gaps in your application which need addressing.

With an unfamiliar process, your employer will simply want enough information to help them feel comfortable in signing off your application.

Help them understand that they are simply confirming that you have undertaken the work, and CILEx will be the ones to rigorously scrutinise whether the work is good enough!"

Esyllt Martin – Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive at Eversheds Sutherland


That is all for our three-part Q&A series and we hope that you will join us (equipped with questions) at our next JLD “Helping you secure a training position” forums.


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