Research: Majority of law grads now become paralegals before doing a training contract

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By Alex Aldridge on

New pre-trainee tier is becoming the norm


More law graduates work as paralegals before doing a training contract than go directly to the trainee solicitor stage — with 60% of wannabe lawyers passing through paralegal purgatory and some remaining stranded there forever.

The finding, from wide-ranging research by the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society (JLD), represents a major shift in legal profession graduate recruitment patterns.

Despite a mushrooming of paralegal numbers of late, as recently as last year immediate entry onto training contracts from law school was the norm. In the JLD’s 2013 survey just 45% of respondents were found to have done paralegal work.

The sharp increase in paralegalling underlines just how difficult the training contract market is, with Legal Cheek this autumn revealing falls in trainee numbers at a host of top firms, including Allen & Overy, Freshfields and Baker & McKenzie.

Paralegal numbers are much less well-documented than training contract numbers, but recruiters report that the sector is booming. Sam Clague, who runs the Stephen James Partnership paralegal recruitment agency, recently spoke to Legal Cheek about a changing approach among law firms, explaining:

“What we’re seeing now is firms who are beginning to hire trainees through their paralegal pool, which is a trend that I think will increase.”

Not that being a paralegal is a guaranteed entry into a training contract. Only slightly over half (54%) of those surveyed by the JLD who’d worked as paralegals had gone on to bag a training contract, with 44% holding the opinion that the experience had failed to advanced their career. 55% had paralegalled for more than a year.

This year’s survey — of 630 legal rookies — also found, shockingly, that one in four legal hopefuls had done unpaid work experience for more than six months at a time.

JLD chair Sophia Dirir described this as “worrying”, adding:

“I would urge the profession to re-evaluate the situation and ensure that they are not putting short-term commercial advantage above the development of future legal talent.”

Another prominent finding was that two-thirds (61%) of those surveyed had spent over £20,000 on their legal education. This is almost double the equivalent figure in 2013, when 35% spent over £20,000 on their law studies, and can be accounted for largely by the trebling of undergraduate fees in 2012.

It was no surprise, then, that a similar proportion of respondents (66%) prioritised short-term earning potential over their long-term career goals in order to pay off debt. Related to this, perhaps, was the very low level of enthusiasm for practising in the cuts-ravaged legal aid sector, with just 4% interested in this area.

The full survey is here.

For the latest graduate and paralegal jobs, check out Legal Cheek Jobs.