What is a Paralegal?
If you have ever had dealings with a law firm then you may have come across the title of paralegal or even had a paralegal deal with your matter, but do you really know what the role of a paralegal is?
A lawyer considers a legal matter from all angles, working out implications, consequences, issues, liability, important gaps in knowledge and strategy. In contrast, a paralegal’s job is typically to carry out the actions suggested by the lawyer including interviewing witnesses, researching and filing legal documents.
Today, the distinction is gradually merging as ever more complex work is being delegated to paralegals working in solicitors’ firms. In areas of practice where many cases are similar in nature (e.g. conveyancing or probate), paralegals are increasingly handling cases from start to finish.
It is still the case that lawyers will continue to deal with the more complex matters, or matters where large sums of money are at stake whereas paralegals’ involvement in these instances tends to be less so.
Examples of paralegal work
You may find a paralegal handling probate and family law cases; they may have involvement in purchasing land and selling finished properties for a property development company; registering and defending trademarks for a food company or advising on consumer law protection. The truth is, a paralegal’s role is likely to differ from firm to firm, based on what is required of them.
To find out more, we asked our own paralegals various questions about their role, including how they got into the profession and what they enjoy about the job.
What is your background and how did you become interested in working as a paralegal?
Louisa Farrant, Property Paralegal
“I did a course in Personal Assistance with Legal Studies at college as I have always been interested in law. I joined Berry & Lamberts as a Trainee Legal Secretary five years before training on the job as a paralegal as I wanted to broaden my skills.”
What was your professional background before becoming a paralegal?
Anita Denton, Private Client Paralegal
“I began my career as a claims assessor for a specialised insurance company which mainly dealt with third party claims, ranging from personal injury to property damage. After having my children, I joined a firm of local solicitors as an administrator in their private client department.”
Charlotte Finn, Property Paralegal
“I worked for Air France in London for 11 years, before moving to Kent and working for an independent solicitor giving legal advice to British people with matters relating to properties in France. I was the one liaising on the French legal side of things. That is how I became involved in the legal world!”
What makes a great paralegal?
All the paralegal team agree that you have to be adaptable, organised, a great communicator, have excellent people skills and be able to assist the lawyer when needed as well as remaining calm when the unexpected arises.
What does the average day look like in your role at Berry & Lamberts?
Charlotte says, “The day starts with reading my emails, checking my diary and my post. I deal with my property completions first, making sure they happen in the smoothest possible way for all parties concerned. I then deal with post-completion work in urgency order – Land Registry registrations, various payments, chasing documents, solving varying issues and closing files.”
“There is not really an average day” says Anita. “I have my own ‘Management of Affairs’ files to run, so I have daily post which needs to be dealt with and I also need to be aware that the clients who depend on us to pay their bills have sufficient funds to do so. I deal with any matters that may arise from our clients who live in their own homes which can include anything from dealing with the carers to a leaky tap. If a client living in a care home passes away, we may need to liaise with their families (if they have any) or if we are their executors, we may need to register the death and begin to administer their estate.”
What is the most challenging part of your job and which part do you enjoy the most?
Heather Greene, Property Paralegal, “Making sure that everything is in the diary so nothing gets missed is quite challenging and absolutely key. The part I enjoy the most is phoning clients on the day of completion to let them know that they can pick up the keys to their new home!” Anita says, “Trying to manage the needs of the client and our role in their lives is a balancing act and I am mindful that everything we do has a cost element. So, whilst we are always happy to help to solve any problems, we try to do this as efficiently as possible. I like the variety that my job entails.”
What advice would you give a paralegal who is just starting their career?
According to Heather, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, organisation is key as well as an interest in the profession. To be able to view things from the client’s point of view. All these helps make a good paralegal.”
And finally, what do you like most about your profession?
Property Paralegal, Heather, says “I love the fact that we can help and support clients throughout the process of buying and selling their home so that they have a positive experience that is memorable for all the right reasons.”
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.