A paralegal is someone who does legal work even though they have not qualified as a solicitor or barrister.
By "legal work" we mean advising and assisting with the law in the same way that a solicitor advises and assists clients.
Doing clerical or administrative work in a legal environment does not count as legal work. Nor does most of the day-to-day work done by a police officer enforcing the law (although if the officer was doing work such as helping undertake prosecutions or advising on the application of law then that type of work would probably count).
Many paralegals have different job titles: caseworker, contracts manager, legal assistant, compliance officer, housing assistant, company secretary, volunteer adviser, counsellor, trade mark clerk etc. Many senior legal secretaries also do paralegal work despite still being called legal secretaries.
You are potentially a paralegal if you do paid or unpaid legal work for your employer or for clients or someone else. Your job title is irrelevant. What counts is that you do legal work sufficiently often to legitimately be considered as a (non-lawyer) legal practitioner.
Only one in three paralegals works for a solicitors' firm. The rest work for the government, the not-for-profit sector, companies, charities, industry etc.
If in doubt about whether the work you do counts as legal work then ask the Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to advise you, whether you are a member of the Institute or not.
'Legal Support Staff' is the term used to describe people who work in a legal environment (e.g. law firms, legal departments, courts, the police and many government departments etc.) who do not do legal work themselves, but support those who do.
The type of support varies widely, it may be secretarial, accountancy or post room support, or it may be business support: marketing, HR, finance, learning & development and the like. The common thread is that individuals work in a legal environment and so need to be aware of the legal, ethical, regulatory and risk management implications inherent in working in that legal environment.
Unlike for solicitors and barristers, there are no formal qualifications or accreditations that you need to obtain. Most paralegals begin their careers by learning on the job. However, as the profession of paralegal continues to grow in recognition then it is likely in due course that the government will seek to regulate it. Part of the Institute´s remit is to establish a recognised educational and skills framework for the paralegal profession.
Although anyone can at present call themselves a paralegal, most employers recognise that the best paralegals have a mixture of experience gained whilst working and educational attainment. If you are not sure whether your work qualifies you for membership, please contact us via our contact page