In 2015 the first paralegal qualified as a solicitor through ‘equivalent means’. But what exactly does this mean and is there a possibility of this alternative route to qualification becoming more widespread?
There is no doubt that the legal market is saturated with graduates and a growing number of aspiring solicitors are turning to paralegal work in their quest to secure that elusive training contract. Depending on the type of firm and department in which they work, paralegals are often completing trainee-level work and beyond and it is not surprising that some are wishing to use this experience to their advantage.
The SRA says that to be admitted as a solicitor, you must have completed:
- The academic stage. This comprises a qualifying law degree or a non-law undergraduate degree followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL); and
- The vocational stage. This includes the Legal Practice Course (LPC), a Training Contract or a Period of Recognised Training and the Professional Skills Course.
However, Regulation 2.2 of the Training Regulations 2014 states that the SRA can recognise that ‘the knowledge and skills outcomes (and the standard at which they must be acquired) may have been achieved by an individual through other assessed learning and work-based learning’. In simple terms, this means that a LPC graduate who has been working as a paralegal can apply to the SRA for an exemption which allows them to bypass the traditional training contract and qualify as a solicitor.
To be eligible, candidates must have gained experience in three distinct areas of English and Welsh law. There is no prescribed length of time for which an individual needs to have been gaining relevant experience but the SRA suggests that around 2 years is reasonable.
The requirements are rigorous. Candidates have to submit a lengthy application form complete with detailed descriptions of work carried out, together with supporting evidence and a fee of £600. What constitutes supporting evidence varies but personal references from supervisors are usually required. Other supporting evidence can include contracts of employment, job descriptions, appraisals or reviews and any records of work undertaken.
The equivalent means route is much-welcomed by paralegals who have long been doing the same work as their fellow trainees but without enjoying the same job title. Success stories are currently few and far between but perhaps this could be a viable alternative route to qualification in the future.
For more information on equivalent means click here.