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Legal Cheek meets the first person to do the paralegal shortcut

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Shaun Lawler tells Alex Aldridge about how he’s set to become one of the first four LPC graduates in the country to become a solicitor without doing a training contract

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After we reported last week that the first four successful applicants had been approved to qualify as solicitors via the new paralegal shortcut, one of them posted a warning in the comments section of the story.

“Be under no illusion that this is a ‘shortcut’,” he cautioned.

Lincoln University law graduate Shaun Lawler (pictured above), 26, then contacted us and offered to share more information about what it’s like to go from law graduate to paralegal to solicitor without doing a training contract.

Alex Aldridge: How did you come to be the first law graduate to qualify as a solicitor without doing a training contract in a quarter of a century?

Shaun Lawler: I heard about the equivalent means application (aka the paralegal shortcut) last summer and realised I was in a good position to do it. At the time I was one year through the part-time Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the University of Law in Bloomsbury and had been working as a paralegal since September 2012 having finished my law degree in 2009. And I realised this could apply to me.

Aldridge: So all the paralegal work you’d done basically counted as a training contract?

Lawler: That’s the idea. The thing with equivalent means is that you’re ticking the same boxes as for a training contract. It’s exactly the same standard. Where it differs is that the onus is on the paralegal to keep all the records themselves. Fortunately, I’d kept all the relevant documentation since I started as a paralegal well before equivalent means came into being. Then, when I knew the route was possible, I obviously kept documenting everything.

Aldridge: It sounds fairly straightforward.

Lawler: It’s harder than you think. One of the biggest barriers is that you have to do effectively three seats — one contentious, the other non-contentious, and for the third it can be either. Many paralegals just don’t get this sort of variety. The key thing is having a supportive supervisor. I was lucky in this respect. So I spent time working in the firm’s civil/commercial litigation department and was given the opportunity to also work with commercial contracts and wills. It’s not enough just to do a few pieces of work. You actually have to spend a substantial period of time in each area — like a trainee would.

Aldridge: OK, so assuming you manage to do that, what happens next?

Lawler: You apply to the SRA to qualify via equivalent means. The application form [which can be found here] is over 50 pages long and extremely comprehensive in respect of each outcome that has to be met, so you have to provide a lot of documentation. I had to also get two references from existing solicitors to confirm that my work was to the same standard as a trainee solicitor and justify each outcome raised in my application. Also, it costs £600 to apply, which is a lot on paralegal wages. And then I had to wait six months to hear if I had been successful. Oh, and there are no appeal rights. So if you don’t get approved it’s back to square one.

Aldridge: *Sharp intake of breath*

Lawler: I told you it wasn’t a shortcut.

Aldridge: Has it been worth it?

Lawler: Absolutely, yes. The big difference is that now I’m not reliant on a firm dangling a training contract on a piece of string. It’s in my hands. I actually moved from my previous firm, where I completed the requirements for equivalent means, to join Malletts Solicitors last October. But the whole process has been a risk. The LPC is extremely expensive and I have had to take out a hefty loan to cover the fees. Fortunately the gamble has paid off.

Aldridge: Will you get a pay rise?

Lawler: Hopefully. But I haven’t finished the LPC yet. I will do over the summer [Lawler is on for a distinction]. At that point I’ll qualify and I’m looking forward to putting to use all the experience I have gained over the last few years.

Aldridge: What’s the plan beyond that?

Lawler: I’d like to specialise in commercial company law, with a focus on IT start-ups.

The Paralegal Shortcut: 29 LPC grads apply to qualify as solicitors without doing a training contract [Legal Cheek]