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How is the role of the paralegal changing?

The role of the paralegal is changing as law firms seek to become more profitable by cutting costs and taking on more work

This inevitably means more work for paralegals and provides further opportunities within firms. Here we look at the advantages and disadvantages of the changing role of paralegals.

What is a paralegal?

A paralegal was traditionally used to assist with legal issues in the litigation or commercial departments of large law firms. There are two types of paralegal: those who go into it as a career and those who use it to get a training contract, particularly within larger law firms.

One of the main reasons law firms are employing more people as paralegals is because the legal market is no longer the domain of the mainstream law firm. The Legal Services Act 2011 means that non-legal entities can now operate in this market and provide legal services; therefore, ‘traditional’ law firms have to be more competitive, take on more work and reduce their costs.

To achieve this, law firms are now using the fact that they have paralegals who are looking for training contracts to try to circumvent the traditional graduate recruitment process for trainee solicitors. If a law firm decides to make the trainee solicitor recruitment process open only to paralegals already working for the firm, they could be saving considerable sums of money in recruitment, training and overheads.

Advantages

There are many advantages to recruiting for training contracts from within an established group of paralegals. Rather than choosing candidates based on interviews, recruiting from within means the firm already knows candidate and what they are capable of. They can also have a more tailored approach to recruitment and recruit the right people at the right time.

For paralegals who want to be considered for training contracts, the main advantage is less competition than if they were applying to a firm through the traditional route, as there will be a smaller number of candidates from which to choose.

Disadvantages

This type of process is likely to create conflict between those wanting to join a firm as a career paralegal and those using it as a stepping stone to a training contract. It also means that graduates might have to take on the role of paralegal and remain in that role indefinitely until a training contract place became available; even then, there would be no guarantees. This way of recruiting, if universally adopted, also means that a candidate would be tied to applying to the firm for which they were working at the time.

Whether you are planning to work long term as a paralegal or intend to work as a paralegal and then begin a training contract, there are major changes taking place within the legal industry. Overall, it seems that most of the benefits are with the law firms; however, there is no way of knowing for sure what the impact of this change in legal recruitment will be and how it will affect those seeking to enter the legal profession in the future. We will just have to wait and see.

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