Paralegal to Trainee: A Step Up?

28 October, 2021

In today’s legal recruitment market, it is becoming increasingly common for trainee solicitors to already have a certain amount of paralegal experience under their belts. Paralegal experience in any capacity can be invaluable when it comes to applying for training contracts, not only because it demonstrates a certain level of commitment to the profession, but it also allows a prospective trainee to gain a better understanding of the operations of a law firm and a particular area of legal practice.

This blog post aims to describe what the step up from paralegal to trainee solicitor is like and some things you should be aware of before beginning your training contract.


Be prepared to re-set and start from a blank canvas

I was fortunate enough to gain my paralegal experience at Cripps PG however moving to a new department to start my training contract was still a difficult transition although maybe not as daunting as starting the first seat of a training contract straight from law school.  I was already comfortable using the various IT systems currently in place here. What I found particularly challenging, however, was stepping away from my comfort zone of corporate law (where I worked as a paralegal) and entering the completely different field of commercial real estate. While there are some similarities between the operations of both departments, nothing can really prepare you for a new, unfamiliar area of legal practice. The best advice I received to help me deal with the challenge of moving departments was to get involved from day one and give everything a go when offered the chance. If things don’t quite go to plan, at least you had a jolly good go and have most likely learned something from it.


There is just as much (if not, more) admin involved

The common perception (particularly as a result of TV dramas such as Suits) is that paralegals are in charge of making cups of tea for partners and will seldom get involved in “juicy matters”. Having experienced life as both a paralegal and a trainee, I can confirm that this perception is anything but true. During my time as a paralegal, I was able to spend many hours developing my softer skills and building a solid base of knowledge about the firm and its clients. As a result of the types of work that paralegals are exposed to here at Cripps PG, it is very often the case that they are far more knowledgeable about a certain area of law than a fresh-faced trainee. As such, it may be that the trainee is tasked with carrying out various admin tasks on a matter in order to develop the base of knowledge that the paralegal already has. It is therefore key that a prospective trainee is prepared to get involved and learn from the ground up. After all, this is the only way that a trainee will begin to understand the procedural elements of practicing as a solicitor, such as preparing bills and processing completion monies.


Great academics do not necessarily make you a great trainee

If, like me, you worked as a paralegal while studying for the LPC, I am sure you will have been very relieved to finish the final chapter of your legal studies. It is important to remember, however, that first class degrees and distinctions on the LPC alone will not make you a great trainee. Ambition, drive, conscientiousness and a long list of other factors also contribute to the overall mix. It is highly likely that it took many hours of hard work and determination to achieve a distinction on the LPC, but a prospective trainee must remember to carry this level of dedication into their training contract. This, in my opinion, is the most important factor in this blog post and will allow for the step up from paralegal to trainee to be more seamless.