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The Paralegal Option

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Paralegal Activity

For many BPTC students, once you are called to the Bar you have a year in which to build your CV up, and accrue some meaningful, practical, legal employment. Without Pupillage secured, you want to use your time well, earn some money so you can enjoy life once again, and network. But, most of all, you want to be able to improve on previous unsuccessful Pupillage applications by detailing some real legal experience. Such employment ticks the commitment box and demonstrates resourcefulness.

Paralegal work is a good option. You are getting first-hand experience of your chosen field/s, you can develop relationships with solicitors who, hopefully, will provide references that hint at future instruction. The latter can be very helpful when chambers are looking at two great candidates, but with one position to fill. If you suggest that your paralegal employment will lead to your being instructed as a barrister (albeit at 2nd six and junior level you won’t be doing earth shattering stuff) then you won’t be a drain on chambers, whose clerks often scrape about trying to find something for pupils and juniors to do in dry spells.

So, this year before the next round of interviews is an important one. You need to be seen to be pro-active, and there comes a point where mini-pupillages become futile. I suggest you only undertake 5-8, depending on how early you start. I have heard it from barristers that those applicants who apply for Pupillage, thrilled with themselves for notching up 61 mini-pupillages across the nation, just look like they have a lot of time to chew up, and are not actually working. To work is deemed as valuable life experience by chambers, as well as enhancing your legal knowhow.

What are the problems that face you? Well, firms that advertise vacant paralegal roles often demand that applicants have at least 6 months experience as a paralegal. Many of you may have heard some of the horror stories about paralegal work: nailed to a photocopier, paginating and the Starbucks and sushi runs. It is true. It can be a legal sweat shop. But, we put up with this because we need the job, the CV boost and the contacts. So, if it is so menial, why require previous experience? Well, I have no idea. This can be really frustrating and this is when you need to be resourceful.

If this previous experience requirement is causing troubles, the best thing to do is call on your contacts like a blood sucker. All those barristers you met during mini-pupillages, or solicitors you shadowed, might know of a position opening up. Don’t be shy or reserved. They know how hard it is for you and will appreciate your efforts. I personally found the previous experience requirement a nightmare. I contacted barristers from mini-pupillages who then put me in touch with solicitors and that is how I came across an opening that had not yet been advertised, and I got the 6 month contract.

What a slog!

This can be hard going stuff, and it can be really disheartening: we all have good academic records, we are all post-graduates with a great set of skills, and we are having to fight for photocopying jobs and tea runs. But, that is just the way it is, and that we have made Pupillage our professional goal means we know we are not in for an easy canter.

I myself paralegaled for a year in family law. First, in “big-money” divorce, and then public family work. Drawing on my experience, and the experience of others to whom I have spoken, firms that undertake public funded cases will offer a paralegal a lot more responsibility. I literally went from hand writing 1-3000 on the bottom corner of bundle pages, wondering why I bothered to get out of bed in the morning, to then working on my own cases. Travelled from across the country with clients on my own, appearing in court on my own. I once had to do battle with a judge in Southend (lovely place) on a matter of law that was very invigorating. She caved. Essentially, you get to really work with clients, engage with the law and be at the front of what is going on. I appreciate for those with a chancery interest, this is of no interest. But for those that want a family, crime or varied common law pupillage, a public funded firm will really help you develop strong, perceptive client skills. You will be in court seeing the law at work. You will become familiar with those in your field/s of interest and most of all, you will enjoy genuine responsibility.

If your current applications have been unsuccessful, then you are looking at Pupillage in 2014. That means two years to fill. Do not paralegal for that long, unless you find a role in a firm that really does give you meaty responsibility. Barristers know that most places will have you at the photocopier and that you will have learnt little. For private client and commercial firms, you as the paralegal will get all you are going to get out of the job after two months. That includes contacts. After that, repetition will be the experience. So don’t seek paralegal work for longer than 6 months. Try and vary things up. After 6 months paralegal work, you will have garnered valuable experience to apply for case worker jobs, which is rewarding and enjoyable. It can sound similar to paralegal work, but it is far from it. Legal research roles are hard to find but really impress. Often a QC will advertise for a researcher. Keep an eye on the Home Office website. Judges need assistants.

Many thanks to George Harley for this illumination around paralegal work. George completed both his GDL and BPTC at The City Law School.