2016: A Year in review of the legal market

With Christmas fast approaching, what better time to reflect on the last 12 months? And what a 12 months it has been!

 

Having worked in the non-qualified legal space for a year now, I have learnt a lot about the perception of paralegals in the workplace. More importantly, I have learnt about the misconceptions when it comes to the options available and the calibre of the paralegal workforce, which more often than not simply stems from lack of information available to both paralegals and their hiring managers. Here’s my review of the paralegal market in 2016:

 

3 THINGS YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW BUT DIDN’T FULLY UNDERSTAND ABOUT PARALEGALS

 

1)         The value of a paralegal

 

With no set definition to the role of paralegal, and with varying opinions on the value they add to businesses, it comes as no surprise that the importance of a paralegal is frequently overlooked. The majority of confusion lies in the vast array of tasks paralegals undertake and, as a result, the almost immeasurable range of skill-sets paralegals possess.

 

While some paralegals shoulder more menial, unskilled tasks, many operate at a considerably higher level, betrayed only by their job title. Offering extensive, specialist knowledge in their chosen area, these paralegals are trainees in all but name.

 

We saw an increase in lawyers making the move in-house in recent years and the paralegal market is now naturally following suit, with more and more in-house Heads of Legal and General Counsels hiring paralegals, Legal Executives and Contracts Managers. The trend has been so marked, in fact, that 18 months ago Badenoch & Clark established a dedicated Paralegal & Non-Qualified team to support in-house and private practice clients and candidates.

 

2)         Progression doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone

 

In this day and age, progression doesn’t need to follow standard routes, nor should it. With every other field showing constant advancements and updates to traditional methods, the legal world seems to have finally caught on.

 

With the ‘traditional training contract’ becoming ever more elusive, there are now alternative means of progression and - ultimately - qualification. Surprisingly, though, many legal professionals remain unaware of them. Each path can be tailored to a particular career stage, and no longer is the only acceptable and respected route to swiftly move across from university into law school, while balancing the ever-increasing pressure and protracted process of training contract applications.

 

-  CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives)

 

Key benefit: FLEXIBILITY

 

Two elements have to be completed in conjunction in order to fulfil the requirements of qualification through CILEX. Firstly, you must demonstrate at least 20 hours per week of supervised legal work, and secondly, submit a logbook and portfolio that clearly outline all learning criteria have been met. Upon completion of both, you will be eligible to cross-qualify as a solicitor.

 

-  Qualifying through equivalent means

 

Key benefit: REDUCED TIME

 

Established only a year ago, this modern route combines methods taken from both CILEX and the training contract. In brief, candidates will need to complete a ‘period of recognised training’ with a SRA-approved organisation across different seats. This training can be shortened by up to six months by demonstrating relevant work experience in the three years leading up to this training period.

 

-  Career Paralegals

 

Key benefit: NO QUALIFICATION NEEDED

 

Another option is to ignore qualification altogether. Many firms now have a layer of career paralegals operating at a senior level within the business, who are paid similarly to qualified members of staff – up to £60k – but not expected to put in put in such challenging hours.

 

In-house roles also offer progression in the form of Contracts Manager roles or more senior commercial positions. This is a great option for those wishing to diversify beyond the purely legal elements of their role.

 

You must be curious what these routes will cost, both from an employer/employee perspective – but don’t panic. CILEX funding costs only a fraction of the price of an LPC, coming in at just under £3,000 for a law graduate, whereas qualifying through equivalent means won’t even incur a fee.

 

As an employer, it is important to stand out from your competition and these alternative routes for progression offer up a considerably more flexible option for your employees. This is guaranteed to not only attract the best talent in the market, but also retain them.

 

3)         How much should a paralegal be paid?

 

Interestingly, The Lawyer recently released an article that provided a deep analysis into life as a paralegal. A topic of interest that provoked a range of responses was salary, as it established that ‘only 36% of paralegals agreed they are fairly paid’.

 

Salaries differ considerably depending on location, level of firm, role type and whether in-house or private practice. As an average, in-house lends itself to higher salaries at the non-qualified level in a direct contrast to qualified lawyers who often find a drop in salary is needed for a move in-house.

 

Firms tend to have a bigger variation in salary dependent on location as in-house tend to be steadier within London and the counties directly surrounding. A small firm in Essex or Hertfordshire is much more likely to be at the bottom of the banding than a central London firm of equivalent size.

 

In House                                                Private Practice

London                  £25 – 35k                                  £20 – 30k

Counties                £25 – 35k                                  £16 – 25k

 

While job satisfaction and career progression are very important to paralegals, salary is still a key factor to get right and those who can offer a fair remuneration package will be able to attract and keep the best talent.

 

In 2016, I have learnt a lot but also been able to educate and partner with hiring managers to set the story straight on some of these misconceptions.

 

With workload growing and purse-strings tightening, ultimately for me, this begs the question, why employ a junior solicitor when in fact a good Paralegal can excel at the same job for a fraction of the cost?

 

I am always keen to know your thoughts and experiences so please get in touch.

 

Categories

Legal , Recruitment
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