By Faye Phillips, StretLaw Associate
So the end of the LPC is here, exams are over, no more dreaded revision timetables! However, after a few days of feeling lost with no more studying to do, reality kicks in; time to find a job. Most of my peers have been successful in securing Paralegal positions but will they get a training contract at the end of it and how long will they take to get there?
Paralegal work varies a lot from firm to firm and ranges from offering simple case support to career paralegals that conduct their own caseload. With the oversupply of LPC graduates in comparison with the amount of training contracts available, will paralegal roles only be accessible to those with LPC qualifications?
Some would say anyone funding the LPC himself or herself without having a training contract secured is foolish, but for many it is the only option. Besides, not everyone wants to work in a medium to large-sized firm which funds LPC students’ fees. For those with a desire to work in a high street firm, helping their local community, self-funding the LPC is often the only option.
Over Qualified Paralegals
The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) research report (June 2013) is a joint project between the SRA, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives and Professional Standards (IPS). It has been described as “the big shake-up of the legal profession” and is a response to the “unprecedented degree of change” currently experienced in the legal sector.
Regarding paralegals roles, the report states “data from the LETR research point to the emergence of a variety of new ‘non-legal’, hybrid and ‘technician’ roles that are being developed within both conventional and alternative business structures.”
Legal Work Experience
Also with “the glut of graduates without training contracts and pupillages has meant that in-house providers have had no shortage of individuals willing to take on short-term positions as a means of getting some [legal] work experience”.
The report goes on to say “the arrival of ABSs in the legal market was seen by respondents as providing more opportunities for paralegals, but with possible knock-on effects for existing firms and training contracts.” For example one solicitor said, ‘with the advent of ABSs I see that there will be fewer training contracts because they will have less of a necessity for qualified solicitors. There’ll be higher use of paralegal in that context.’”
Paralegals/Call Centre Workers?
Will paralegals get the respect they deserve or will they be viewed as the ‘mill workers of the legal profession’? Many are already employed to ask the right questions for PI firms, will the legal profession become more diverse or more diluted?
The report talks about “significant, growth in graduate paralegals, as a consequence of oversupply from the BVC/BPTC and LPC.” It notes “for the employer it provides, with limited training, a relatively high skill set at significantly below the cost of a conventional trainee.” But it’s “less attractive for those performing the role, and concerns about lack of training and exploitation were raised in focus groups and discussions.”
On the other hand, the report highlights, “[paralegals] are not necessarily a long-term solution for particular businesses. Firms also need as one solicitor respondent stated, ‘permanent paralegals who have no ambition’, or as one barrister put it, ‘technicians who are prepared to do something 100 times over and over again and are happy to be really good at that for 50 years.’”
The report recognises that “technician” may describe what some low-level paralegals do, but emphasises that other paralegals do work at an “equivalent level to members of the regulated profession.”
We’ll Take You (If you have a decent degree)
One solicitor said in an on-line survey: “we would rather take graduates (any degree from a decent university) without any of the (pointless and extremely poor quality) legal qualifications (GDL/LPC) and train them ourselves to meet the precise requirements of our clients.”
Question to Consider
What about making a training contract a prerequisite for enrolment on the LPC? Perhaps many would think twice about embarking on a professional course at such high cost with such little chance of a career. Or should we scrap the ‘over supplied’ LPC altogether in favour of legal apprenticeships?
(More about alternative routes in Part II next week)
© Faye Phillips, 2013
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