Contrary to the inaccurate impression given by some others, you do not need any qualifications at all to become a paralegal - it is an unregulated profession. You become a paralegal by getting a job as a paralegal.
You do not even need to be a member of the Institute (or anyone else) although we highly recommended IOP membership/continued membership if you plan on being a professional paralegal and having a career in the law.
There are circa 250,000 paralegals, of whom some 60,000 work in solicitors' firms. Most do not have any legal qualifications. Only a minority are graduates (in law or anything else).
Although you are not obliged to have any legal qualifications, the competition for places is intense and so those with legal qualifications tend to beat those without.
Therefore if you do not have a minimum of six months legal work experience (i.e. actually doing legal work) then you should at least consider bolstering your CV by doing a legal course.
BUT if you don't want to, or can't afford to, then there is nothing stopping you just applying for paralegal jobs anyway.
You are not obliged to do any course or get any particular qualification to work as a paralegal. But if you don't have prior paralegal work experience (relevant prior paralegal experience is the most highly valued thing amongst employers - usually 6 - 12 months minimum. Any less keeps you at entry-level), then doing the right course or having the right qualification can make a big difference in the competitive jobs market.
There are a bewildering range of courses out there - of varying quality. We recommend a number of courses and training providers on our training pages. In general, we recommend that whichever course you choose it is one that:
1. Leads to a qualification that is recognised by employers throughout the country. Employers tend to value those courses which lead to a government approved qualification (i.e. one issued by a university or national awarding body like Edexcel) or approved by us.
This is because there are a many small courses run by private providers of dubious benefit. Alternatively, they may be very good courses, but if they do not lead to a qualification and the employer has never heard of them before....
2. Choose a practice-orientated course (a.k.a. vocational courses and practice & procedure courses). Paralegals do things: incorporate companies; interview witnesses; attend court with barristers; complete and submit important official documentation, etc. The courses or qualifications that employers value most highly are the ones that teach you these things. Academic courses such as law degrees, the GDL and even masters degrees in law are often viewed as near-irrelevant by employers (especially solicitors' firms) as they are not perceived to teach either the practical knowledge needed (yes, you know about the principles of tort, but do you know which courts hear tort cases, how to complete the court forms, what the claims deadlines are etc?).
Some employers, e.g. local authorities will value academic qualifications more highly.
For details of courses that we recommend click here.
This is because paralegals do very practical work it is therefore very localized work. The forms, procedures, courts, deadlines, essential information, etc all reflect practise and procedure in England & Wales. For this reason overseas qualifications and experience tend not to be very highly valued.
3. Focus on a the practice area you want to work in. Paralegals specialise. General courses covering a range of topics are not helpful unless you need to get an introduction to the law. Ideally you would work out that you like, say, personal injury, and do a course covering that topic. Studying conveyancing and then applying for a job in family law is not going to impress.