No. Most trainee solicitors still follow the school, university, law school, training contract route. However an increasing number of solicitors' firms like their trainee solicitors to have done a minimum of six months paralegal work first. It is not usually a pre-requisite, but it does give the individual an advantage over other applicants.
Firms like people to have such prior experience because the world of full-time, permanent work in a professional environment is something that most trainee solicitors have not previously experienced. They therefore sometimes need a "settling in" as they adjust to life as a worker and not a student. Paralegals have already had gone through that process - at somebody else's expense!
No. Ex-legal secretaries sometimes find there is a prejudice against them because some old-fashioned employers are suspicious. That is not the case with paralegals. You will not be considered any less credible because you did paralegal work - usually the opposite is true.
Yes. Provided that the work that you did as a paralegal is compatible to the work that you would be expected to do as a trainee solicitor then the employer who gives you the training contract has the option of applying to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to reduce the duration of your training contract.
Please note that you do not have the right to make such an application. It is only the organisation that gives you the training contract. They are not obliged to make such an application, so you may have to persuade them.
The maximum amount of time that you can shorten your training contract by is six months. Paralegal work is accepted on a 2-for-1 basis. This means that two months of qualifying paralegal work will give you one month's reduction on your training contract. So you will need to spend a year doing work as a paralegal to get a reduction of six months in your training contract.
It is important that you prepare a compelling case for the employer with whom you hold a training contract. In most cases it will be a different employer to the one you did paralegal work with.
We recommend that you keep a diary of your paralegal work experience and have your paralegal line manager sign off on it on a regular basis to verify that what you have written is true. Remember however that your paralegal employer will not want you to record anything which either compromises client confidentiality or which discloses confidential information about your paralegal employers' practice.
Creating a portfolio of sample work is not required. However it it may help persuade your training contract employer to apply for the reduction. Be aware though that such portfolios can be very contentious things. Documents that you have created, even online copies, remain the property of the paralegal employer (and possibly even the relevant client). Many legal practices discourage portfolio building because of the risk that confidential company and client information will be taken out of their control. If you do wish to build a portfolio then do it only with the approval of your paralegal employer.
From the website of the Solicitors Regulation Authority - visit www.sra.org.uk
The documents you need to look out for are:
Training trainee solicitors: Application to recognise experience outside of a training contract (time to count)
Training trainee solicitors: Guidelines for recognising previous experience (time to count)
Possibly, but don't count on it. If they had wanted to hire you as a trainee solicitor they would have. Some solicitors' firms have a policy of formally prohibiting paralegals from being given training contracts. This is because they found that paralegals were becoming disruptive by aggressively lobbying individual partners and others for a training contract.
The best way to upgrade your job from paralegal to trainee solicitor (assuming you are eligible) is to do an excellent job as a paralegal and only broach the subject when you have proven your worth.
The scheme you have heard about is the workplace pilot scheme being run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
It was only a pilot scheme and the SRA have made it very clear that there are no plans to implement the scheme further.