Applying for a training contract with a firm can be a challenging and worrying time, with many applicants finding themselves competing against numerous candidates for only a handful of positions.
Working as a paralegal before applying for trainee solicitor roles can not only assist you in building up your legal experience but can ultimately help you on your way to securing a training contract by making you stand out from the crowd. Christina Peck, a Trainee Solicitor at Rothera Sharp explains why she chose to become a paralegal first before applying for her training contract.
Qualifying as a solicitor has been an aspiration of mine for a very long time but I also knew that I needed to work full-time to be able to support myself. I was lucky enough to secure a role as an office junior when I was 20 and from there on I worked my way up at Rothera Sharp through the roles of legal secretary, personal assistant, paralegal and now trainee solicitor.
Earn while you learn!
Combined with working full-time, I studied my law degree part-time and am now undertaking my Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time. I won’t deny going down this route is hard (I also took on parental guardianship for a sibling and gave birth to my daughter during this time!) but it has enabled me to gain so many skills I have been able to implement into my trainee solicitor role all whilst being able to support myself, from managing my time effectively to staying organised.
Why become a paralegal first?
The LPC is a huge commitment financially and applying for a training contract can be very daunting. You will be going up against a lot of competition and naturally there is the worry you won’t be able to secure a contract. Therefore a good way to enable you to stand out against the competition is by having a CV full of legal experience and transferable skills.
I personally hoped my experience as a paralegal would set me aside from other trainees applying, and whilst I knew it was not a guarantee that I would secure a training contract, I felt the experience would be beneficial. All of the skills I have gained have made my transition to becoming a trainee smoother. Being a paralegal first enabled me to develop skills and experience in an environment I would ultimately be training in and helped prepare me so that when I started my training contract I was able to start picking up work from day one.
As a paralegal I was given the opportunity at Rothera Sharp to run and build up my own caseload of files in residential conveyancing. This role had plenty of client contact and hands-on experience which was something I really enjoyed as part of my role. I was also able to see the day-to-day life of a law firm and the routine of solicitors. All these experiences affirmed that this was the type of work I wanted to go into and pushed me to keep studying (especially on days when I was so tired!)
Is a paralegal position the quicker or easier route?
The general opinion is that having a paralegal role whilst already doing your LPC enables you to get your “foot in the door” with a legal firm, and I both agree and disagree with this statement. Rothera Sharp has a very strong ethic of supporting its employees in their career progression but internal candidates still go through the same process and are interviewed together with external candidates so it’s not any easier for them-the first time I applied I was unsuccessful!
However, I knew that I really wanted to continue working and progress in my career with Rothera Sharp and I was able to emphasise and demonstrate this during my role as a paralegal through the client feedback I received and by having new work being directly referred to me. I could already navigate the firm’s case management system, time record and most importantly I had experience of dealing with clients, all of which made me feel more prepared and less intimidated when I started my training contract.
Are there benefits to being a paralegal before starting your training contract?
Whilst I wouldn’t say by any means this is the easier route and it has taken me longer to reach my end goal, I do genuinely think that I have gained so many invaluable skills and experience through my roles in legal firms and that has given me more confidence, compared to if I had just gone straight into a training contract.
I believe coming from a different route, being a mother, working full-time and studying part-time are all positives in showing your potential recruiter that you are able to manage your time effectively. I am also much older than the average trainee applicant and I am able to bring additional experiences with me, which I wouldn’t change at all!
I also think the fact that Rothera Sharp welcomes candidates from all backgrounds really helps-it doesn’t matter what age you are or what career path you have taken-if you are the right candidate you will be successful! It has also massively boosted my confidence being accepted onto the training contract to carry on advancing in my career with them.