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from Paralegal to Trainee - helpline or hurdle?

1 November 2018

“Do you think you’ve got an advantage over the other trainees because you were a paralegal first?” - A question I often get asked by my peers. And in true solicitor style, there is no right or wrong answer.

I am currently 2 months into my first seat, which is in the Property Litigation team in Nottingham. I was originally offered my training contract in July 2016, after completing the two week summer vacation scheme at the firm. I was then interviewed for a paralegal role in the Construction and Engineering team to 'fill the gap' whilst I waited to start my training contract in September 2018.

The advantages

As a paralegal, I was given a volume of my own matters to manage pretty much from the outset. I was responsible for ensuring the matters were progressed in a timely manner, that all key dates were hit and that clients were advised of risks appropriately and received an exceptional service – exactly what a qualified solicitor at Browne Jacobson does, right? So, there is no doubt that this was an invaluable experience which I could, and have, used to assist me in my training contract so far. 

Not only did it provide an early insight into the work of a trainee, it also provided me with, technically speaking, a 'fifth seat' as opposed to the usual four. The whole nature of a training contract is to get a well-rounded experience in different areas of law. What better way to do this than to have an additional area of law under your belt? Alternatively, if you think you are ready to qualify early, a paralegal stint can class as one out of your four seats, so you won’t have to wait the extra 6 months if you’d prefer to hit the ground running as an NQ

Putting the work perspective aside, the most valuable resource a trainee can have is the support from their fellow peers. For answers to any questions (there are no stupid ones!), advice or even just a catch up in No. 44 at lunch time, the people you work with can be your lifeline if you need one. So why not start building these relationships as early as possible whilst being a paralegal? Because let’s face it, you can never have too many friends…

The first seat

One thing that I have personally struggled with has been the change from paralegal to trainee. If you have been a paralegal for almost two years, like I had, it is easy to get into the mind-set that you are happy staying where you are. You know the work, you have your own cases, you love the team - you’re settled. It can be quite difficult to adjust to a new team, practice area and environment when you’ve been part of a different one for so long. You essentially start from square one, on day one.

However, this is the perfect opportunity to expand your skill set and challenge yourself. It is at this point that you can start working out what you’re interested or not interested in. My role in the Construction team was to carry out purely transactional, non-contentious work. In complete contrast, I am now in the Property Litigation team. The insight into both contentious and non-contentious work allows me to gauge what I enjoy the most which will help when choosing my second seat. Do I want to broaden my knowledge and experience of litigation or have I seen enough to justify going back to transactional work?

Either way, it’s refreshing to have the choice and I will certainly make the most of it!

Helpline or hurdle?

As I mentioned before, there is no right or wrong answer to whether being a paralegal before being a trainee has been helpful or more of a hurdle. From my own experience, I would say to take the opportunity to be a paralegal if you get it. Equally, however, if you don’t have the opportunity to be a paralegal before you start your training contract, it will not have a negative impact on your experience.