Trainee blog: from paralegal to trainee – making the jump

Working as a paralegal is an increasingly common step before starting a training contract and many people juggle gaining practical experience of the legal sector with making applications. I spent 18 months working as a paralegal in the Commercial and Regulatory Disputes team at Michelmores which was incredibly beneficial. The knowledge and experience I gained significantly helped me when I was preparing my applications, and at assessment days.

There are many reasons for taking up paralegal work before starting a training contract: you may want to test the legal waters before fully committing to a career; you may be looking to get to know a specific firm; or like me, you may have just been unsuccessful with applications whilst studying.

A paralegal role has its own challenges and parameters and there are some core skills which are valuable for the more competency based elements of the application process. It is important to maintain a holistic view of your day-to-day work as this can help set you up to make a strong training contract application. 

With that in mind, I wanted to share my tips for the paralegals out there looking to become a trainee solicitor:

  1. Keep an open mind: Just because you are paralegaling with one firm in one area of law, it does not mean you need to commit to that same firm or area. Be mindful that a training contract will give you experience across multiple teams, offices and departments, and there's bound to be something you'll truly enjoy. Stay interested in sector groups and cross-team initiatives as a way to get an insight into other areas.
  2. Talk: The best piece of advice I ever received whilst I was a paralegal was to talk to as many people across the firm as possible. You can get valuable insights into the work culture in the other teams, what types of matters they mostly deal with, and any interesting clients they have. All of this can provide really helpful context when it comes to applying for a training contract.
  3. Make your intentions known: It might sound obvious but make it absolutely clear that you are keen to apply for a training contract. Some firms have excellent reputations for recruiting trainees from their paralegal pool, so it is worth having the discussion with recruitment from the outset.
  4. Always broaden your horizons: When working as a paralegal, do not neglect your personal development. Always be on the lookout for interesting and complex work you can talk about when it comes to applying for a training contract, and encourage your supervisor to give you as much responsibility as possible. For example, I was given the rare opportunity to do a partial secondment with a large client for a year, with a lot of independent self-management involved. This was an excellent way to make my applications stand out.  
  5. Don't underestimate your knowledge: You might feel that some of what you are taught as a paralegal is a given, such as accurate time-recording, providing scopes of work, and billing clients. However, all of this is valuable core knowledge for a lawyer. On one of my assessment days, I was asked to discuss how I would price-up a particular matter and what fee arrangements I would offer to the client, something which I would have had no clue about had it not been for my paralegal experience.

Being a paralegal is a chance to prove that you can grow a legal career of your own, and it can also be a great opportunity to take ownership of your development and your commercial and technical understanding.