Most solicitors' firms employ paralegals. These paralegals do a wide variety of work: document preparation; research; filing papers at court or Companies House etc., corresponding with clients, interviewing witnesses, preparing court bundles and more.
The type of work paralegals do (and the amount of responsibility given to them) depends upon what practice area they work in (crime, property, family law, probate etc), the size of the firm and how much experience the individual paralegal has.
Contrary to what some training providers may imply, most solicitors' firms (NB: solicitors' firms can be partnerships, limited liability partnerships, sole practitioners or companies, but are still traditionally referred to as firms, even though a "firm" usually means a reference to a partnership) are looking for experience more than anything else. Therefore possessing a law degree/having taken a paralegal course is rarely a guarantee of employment.
Legal recruitment companies (of which there are quite a few) tend not to be interested in people who haven't passed the Legal Practice Course and have at least six months paralegal work experience. This is because it is not worth employers spending the money on using legal recruiters to find and vet less experienced/qualified applicants.
However, please note that people who have passed the Legal Practice Course are usually looking for vacancies as trainee solicitors. In the larger commercial firms therefore, paralegal jobs tend to be temporary posts lasting approximately one year. If you do not have that level of qualification/experience then you should contact your local law firms direct. Smaller, local, firms tend to have permanent positions on offer.
The Institute's own research shows that the legal departments of companies employ, on average, five paralegals. you should therefore consider contacting the in-house legal departments of large local companies.
Unlike many law firms, in-house legal departments are willing to take on people without prior experience and train them.
Central and local government and many other non-commercial organisations (from the BBC to the Commission for Racial Equality) employ many paralegals. They are rarely called paralegals: they tend to be called contracts assistants, property advisers, case workers etc.
Regardless of job title however, many offer good salaries and excellent paralegal experience. They also tend to offer better training and career development opportunities.
Again, unlike many law firms, these employers are usually willing to take on people without prior experience and train them.
Try and get some experience of paralegal work, even if temporary and voluntary.
Identify the area(s) of law that interest you (property, commercial, family law, personal injury law, criminal justice system, trading standards etc) and approach employers doing that sort of work.
If you do wish to do a paralegal course first, then try and choose one that (a) relates to your chosen practice area, and (b) which is recognised by employers and (c) is not too expensive.
Do some basic research on your chosen practice area (e.g., if property law then know the simple basics of what happens during the sale of the house, the lease of a flat, etc.
Think about what you can to demonstrate that you are seriously interested in a career as a professional paralegal: for example, do you have membership of the Institute or other relevant organisation?
Remember initially that employers will be looking for any reason (regardless of how flimsy) to discard applications. That is why small stuff counts, like typos, bad handwriting, use of A5 paper for the covering letter, the use of "fun" email names that risk making you sound immature, hassling the employer to check your CV has been received, etc.
Appreciate that all contact with a potential employer creates an impression - even phoning for an application form. Don´t chat away like you have all day, and don't display self-doubt. Do be professional and friendly, and use the opportunity to ask a few questions to get information that other applicants won't have (e.g. if applying to a law firm ask who the interviewers will be then look them up on the firm's web site and in solicitor directories - find out their specialties, when they qualified, etc.).
If an advertisement invites you to phone someone to find out more about a job, phone them and treat it as a phone interview. It gives you an extra opportunity to shine and to stand out from the crowd. Again at the very least you will probably learn some additional information of value.
Bear in mind that most employers can tell when they are sent a pro-forma cover letter and CV - pro-forma applications come across as stale and impersonal and thus send the message "I don't really care about this job".
If you can't be bothered to make an effort to get the job, the chances are that the employer can't be bothered to interview you.
Research the employer and the sector they work in. If the employer has a web site you had better have visited it! Saying you found it hard to get on-line will be seen as a weak excuse.
If you can, visit the employer's office and pick up any brochures in the reception area.