Investment in paralegals pays dividends

Guest post by Richard Coffey, head of managed legal services delivery at Pinsent Masons Vario

Coffey: Paralegal role is increasingly being reconsidered

Paralegals are the backbone of the UK legal sector, with many lawyers simply unable to do their jobs without the support of skilled paralegals.

An estimated 100,000 paralegals work in the UK, making up the second largest portion of the legal profession after solicitors. For too long, an unfair hierarchy has existed, with a perception that those in support or ‘non-fee-earning’ roles were not as important to the business.

Thankfully that outdated thinking is starting to disappear but more needs to be done to fully recognise the contribution paralegals make to the smooth-running of a team. This role can make an interesting and valuable long-term career, with the right investment and thought put behind it.

Historically seen as an entry-level role for those starting out in their legal careers, the paralegal role is increasingly being reconsidered for a number of reasons.

Part of this evolution is down to a broader revolution in legal careers. Today, a legal career isn’t necessarily linear from trainee to partner level. New career paths are now available from a sidestep into specialising in technology or project management, for example, or freelance lawyering.

With a growing focus on wellbeing and mental health, the legal industry has also seen a sea change as more people have recognised that a healthy work-life balance is more valuable to them than a stressful journey to partnership.

It’s against this backdrop that we’ve seen the role of paralegal become more vital to a well-oiled legal team and, equally, more attractive as a long-term career option.

Paralegals have a key role to play, ensuring deadlines are met, collating important evidence and documentation, carrying out research, handling a caseload and supporting on all admin. Investing in long-term career paths to show paralegals they can continue to work in a role they enjoy with increased future opportunities, such as people management and access to more technical and senior legal work, is a very savvy investment for law firms.

Creating these career paths helps ensure you are seen as an attractive employer to the most skilled paralegals. It will also help you retain these individuals, by creating more efficiencies and ensuring the wider team benefits from built-up skills and knowledge, rather than having a revolving cohort of paralegals who constantly need to be recruited and trained.

There is demand among paralegals for more investment into their role and greater long-term opportunities.

Speaking to Gianluca Grafton-Clarke a paralegal in our team at Pinsent Masons, he told me why the role appeals to him: “For me, the quality and variety of work as a paralegal is one of the main draws. Although I predominately sit in the banking and pensions team, because we’re a centralised resource, I get to work across other practice areas regularly and I am exposed to a diverse range of legal work.

“It doesn’t feel like there are any closed doors. In this role, the work-life balance is also very good and I feel like I can engage in high-level, technical legal work without as much pressure.”

What makes a good paralegal and what should firms be looking for if they wish to invest and grow this resource?

Doug Edwards, one of our paralegal team leads, told me that although university law graduates tend to be the go-to when it comes to recruiting paralegals, there are increasing opportunities for individuals with different backgrounds, such as STEM graduates for example, as a more diverse group of paralegals that can really help a legal team’s neurodiversity.

He said he was certainly seeing more paralegals come forward, keen to develop their role and take the next step.

All signs point towards a very bright future for paralegals and the opportunities and support they can offer law firms. Careful consideration about how the paralegal role is perceived in your firm, and the opportunities offered to these individuals to thrive in their careers, should be a priority for any firm in 2022 and beyond.

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