Although being a paralegal is by no means essential to securing a training contract, if the opportunity arises it is a fantastic way to learn new skills.
I worked as a paralegal in the Banking team at Shoosmiths for just under two years before starting my training contract with the firm. In that time I developed some key skills that have been hugely beneficial to me in my training contract so far and will continue to be of huge importance throughout the remainder of my legal career. In this blog post I outline the key skills you can gain being a paralegal and provide top tips on how to make the most of your paralegal experience.
Four key skills you’ll gain as a paralegal
Forms of communication might vary across departments, in a litigious department for example you might expect to do more letter and email correspondence with clients, whereas in a transactional role this might be predominantly over the phone. Communication is all about the way you convey yourself, and it goes a long way.
Drafting requires a high level of attention to detail, regardless of whether you are drafting board minutes, a letter of claim or terms and conditions. Law firms tend also to have their own house styles, which needs to be considered when drafting. Learning how to draft with a high level of meticulousness, and specifically in line with a firm’s house style are both key skills that any trainee and, or future lawyer will need – regardless of their practice area.
Organisational skills are again essential to any trainee or lawyer. Being a paralegal gives you the opportunity to build on this skill set early on, for example at a basic level, through using a firm’s time recording system.
Networking is another key skill for all lawyers and something that can be developed over time. This goes beyond simply client facing networking, but towards interacting with members of your team, other staff, and across the many different offices. The more people in your personal ‘network’, the better.
Three top tips on making the most of your paralegal experience
Importantly however, the enhancement of your legal skills is not the only benefit to being a paralegal. As a paralegal you have a great vantage point to both the firm you are working in and the legal sector as a whole. It is imperative therefore that as a paralegal you seek opportunities, listen and observe.
- Seek opportunities
Seek opportunities to build your own personal brand. Volunteering and getting involved with corporate social responsibility initiatives are a great way to raise your profile. There are usually lots of opportunities in law firms to take part in extracurricular activities, for example at careers fairs or conferences. You could also take advantage of the variety of internal training sessions that are being held by others in your team, or the wider firm. Attending events such as these is not only a great way to build on your legal knowledge, but to network with other teams in your firm. Consider how you can add value to your team, whether this is by providing legal updates on a monthly basis, or offering to update precedent banks, or even chairing team meetings.
Any feedback given to you, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will help you to become a better paralegal, trainee and ultimately lawyer. Remember that feedback is not always immediately ‘positive’… and that is ok! In fact the more constructive the feedback, the better lawyer you will ultimately be. Actively listen to the feedback you are given, take it on board and ensure that you approach future tasks in mind of such advice. Don’t take it personally if the work you’re given back is full of corrections – this is perfectly normal and part-and-parcel of your personal development.
Importantly, you also need to listen to yourself. Think about whether you enjoy the nature of the work you are doing as a paralegal, and how it might shape your future choices. Whether you want to pursue a training contract, become a career paralegal or follow an entirely different career path, the area in which you gain paralegal experience will give you a valuable indication of what areas you want to explore and, where you might want to ultimately qualify.
Being a paralegal, is a great way of getting to know a firm from the inside – particularly who’s who and how it is structured. This can give you an indication of whether it is the right kind of firm for you in terms of its values, culture, work-life balance, and quality of training. Look at the kind of work that junior lawyers and trainees in your firm seem to be doing – are these the sorts of tasks that you would want to be doing as a trainee? Are you happy with the work-life balance? Do you agree with the firm’s values? Do you want a firm that has, or does not have an international focus? Ask yourself these questions on a continuing basis, but always ensure to keep an open mind.
To gain further advice about the right attitude to succeed as a solicitor, have a read of Jess’ blog.
Applications for a summer placement 2020 and training contract 2022 are now open on our website.
If you have any questions you can email us at [email protected] or have a look at some frequently asked questions here.