Choosing a Career as a Paralegal
For law graduates not going on to graduate as attorneys, a career as a professional paralegal is a great option. Paralegals can find work in almost every area such as, corporate, small law firms, large law firms. There are also many options in the public service sector such as the public defender’s office, local government, law enforcement and the clerk of court.
Regulated and Unregulated Options
Paralegals can also choose between regulated and unregulated sectors.
In the regulated sector, paralegals work primarily for solicitors, trademark attorneys; divorce lawyers and licensed attorneys.
Being a paralegal is not the same as being a licensed lawyer, and this is especially true in many attorney’s firms.
Historically paralegals were to lawyers what skilled nurses were to doctors.
However, many law offices delegate complex work to paralegals and many run their own files and have their own clients. Obviously in the regulated sector the various professional groups are structured around the qualified lawyers and therefore anyone who is not a qualified lawyer will not receive the same quality of work, compensation or career opportunity.
This is not necessarily so for one part of the regulated profession: alternative business structures. There are now hundreds of ABS law businesses, and in many of them what counts most is your skill, ability and attitude: professional titles (or lack thereof) are secondary. In an ABS business you would, as a paralegal, be eligible to become a partner/director.
Beyond the regulated legal options lies the unregulated sector.
Most legal work performed by a paralegal is not deemed reserved activity work – which means anyone can do it.
As a result, the unregulated sector is already large and continues to grow at a very fast rate. Over a decade of determined legal deregulation by government has encouraged the growth of around 6,000 paralegal law firms (ie, commercial organizations offering legal services without lawyer involvement). Compare that explosive growth to the four-and-a-half centuries it has taken for there to be around 10,300 attorney firms.
Unregulated firms cover an extremely wide range of practice areas: will writing; uncontested divorce, general business advice, debt recovery, construction disputes, mediation etc. The unregulated sector is still in its infancy and so “paralegal law firms” tend to be relatively small. They do however offer paralegals the opportunity to become senior practitioners/owners. But all of this depends on the regulations set forth on the state they live in.
A ‘paralegal’ is a catch-all default term used to describe any unqualified lawyer who practices law. You become a paralegal simply by getting a job as a legal practitioner – there are no courses you must take first or organizations that you must join. In other words a “paralegal” working for the public does not even have to go to school to become a paralegal. In the unregulated areas what counts more than anything is experience with the different legal processes.