The paralegal market is incredibly fluid and can take many shapes – from short term document review projects to longer term positions supporting entire departments. Many graduates who undertake paralegal roles do so in order to add strength to their applications for training contracts.
Through relevant work experience, individuals are able to demonstrate that they appreciate the realities of a career in law and can also exhibit their commitment to the industry with the hope of appearing more attractive to graduate recruitment teams.
This was certainly my own view and I believe that paralegal work can provide individuals with a good platform to develop a range of skills and become a valued member of the team.
It is natural for individuals to seek the most interesting positions available; however I would advise prospective paralegals to be cautious when applying for jobs. It is often said that applicants should do extensive research in support of their training contract applications to determine a firm’s suitability and, in fact, the same holds just as true for paralegal roles.
If possible, try and gauge the scope of the role and consider whether there would be opportunities to increase your own responsibilities beyond the stated mandate.
In my own view, the best environment to work in as a paralegal is somewhere which does interesting work and has a reputation for using relatively small teams. This allows for enthusiasm to be more readily identified (and rewarded), and will also make it easier for individuals to acquire additional responsibilities in ongoing matters.
This has been my experience in my current role at King & Wood Mallesons where I aimed to become as involved as possible in my assigned matters, including looking for ways to expand my role, and have worked closely with associates and partners across the department. After starting as a document review paralegal, I am now working on a range of matters and attended mediation valued in excess of £200m earlier in the year. This was a very rewarding experience which gave me opportunity to spend time directly with the client and participate in significant strategic discussions.
I would also recommend individuals to consider in-house paralegal positions, the downside of course being that you will not obtain the same level of insight into private practice. However, as I see it, this can be a good way to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
I have worked with a leading global financial organisation and mid-sized private equity firm, and my own experience as an in-house paralegal was a positive one. The main benefit of working in-house is that you can develop an appreciation for the dynamics of certain sectors, in addition to the types of individuals who may well be desired clients of many law firms. Having both relevant knowledge and a network of valuable relationships is a slightly different type of experience and may prove interesting to graduate recruiters.
Another benefit which I have personally enjoyed from paralegal work is mobility. I worked in New York for 12 months, as a paralegal in the legal department of a private equity firm. This was a brilliant experience and I would recommend to anyone considering paralegal work to explore any opportunities in financial centres outside of the UK. Again, this is a good way to build international experience and demonstrate a global mind-set, as well as deviating from the status quo and differentiating your application accordingly.
Ultimately, I am positive about paralegal work. However, it is necessary to try and pick the roles most relevant to an individual’s aspirations by capitalising upon positions which present opportunity and avoiding those which are uncomfortably narrow or restrictive.
Jared Murphy is a paralegal.