In this week’s blog, I will take a broader look at the paralegal profession as a whole. Familiar readers of the blog know that our company, Paralegal Bootcamp, is based out of the US. With this being the case, we focus on a variety of paralegal, legal assistant, and administrative assistant legal positions in our home country. We don’t usually branch out and look at the profession at an international level, so we thought it would be a great topic to explore. We’ll look at the paralegal role in a few different countries, what their role entails, and what kind of education (if any) is required to become a paralegal. Let’s dive in.
Paralegals in Canada
Similar to us in the United States, the role of a paralegal will change from state to state (or in this case, province to province) depending on each jurisdiction’s requirements. Because this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive dive into the role in the country, let’s just look at the profession as a whole in the Great White North while examining the role in some provinces.
Regardless of where you are in Canada, paralegals have very similar duties to those of paralegals in the US. They are responsible for:
- Drafting documents/agreements
- Corresponding with clients
- Meeting with clients for the signing of documents
- Legal Research
- Using eDiscovery software
- Representing individuals in small matters
- Administrative duties
Here’s the interesting part. The duties change significantly depending on the province you are in. in Alberta, for example, a paralegal is not allowed to represent another person in court, but they can in Ontario or British Columbia.
In terms of different titles that are similar to a paralegal, here are a few notable ones:
- Legal Administrative Assistant – Someone who performs mostly administrative tasks for a law office
- Legal Assistant – Someone who does some substantive tasks (legal research, agreement drafting), but has their work supervised by the lawyer they assist.
- Paralegals – Depending on the role, and their jurisdiction (as I mentioned before) a paralegal can represent someone in court, draft complex legal documents (under the supervision of a lawyer) perform research, and many other substantial tasks.
- Law Clerk – This term is commonly used in Ontario and denotes someone who does a mix of administrative and substantive tasks, but is usually less substantive than that of a paralegal.
Compared to the US, paralegals in Canada are rarely, if ever, regulated. This means that almost anyone can call themselves a paralegal as there is no set requirement to earn that title. Although many provinces do have paralegal certificates (a brief look into the profession with small courses), paralegal diplomas (a deeper dive into contract law, constitutional law, and other legal topics), and full paralegal degrees (studying topics similar to that in law school), these are not necessarily required in order to enter into the profession.
However, as many of you may know, the more education or experience you have, the easier it is to land a job. Canada is no exception to that rule. In contrast, the province of Ontario does require paralegals to be licensed by their Law Society, which means they must graduate from an accredited school and land a field replacement position (practicum/internship). In general, a paralegal is someone that usually has a combination of experience and education, given how nebulous the title can be in some provinces, law firms usually call someone a paralegal if they have extensive experience and education. In some cases, that could be over 10+ years of experience!
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The Paralegal Profession in France
Researching a profession that I have worked in for so long and seeing how it looks on the other side of the world is fascinating. I was pleasantly surprised to find that paralegals in France have similar duties, education, and titles.
Given the language barrier (French vs. English) some of the terms are not directly correlated, but we will be talking about very similar roles. Here’s a breakdown of what the paralegal profession looks like in the country famous for its wines and cheeses:
- Secrétaire Juridique (Legal Secretary): These legal professionals are responsible for more administrative tasks such as filing paperwork, receiving client intake forms, drafting letters and demand packages, and less substantial tasks.
- Assistant Juridique (Legal Assistant): Legal assistants in France perform similar duties to that of legal assistants in the USA, but they don’t necessarily work for law firms. One job posting I found, for example, was for a corporation looking to hire an Assistant Juridique for more administrative tasks. This included handling administrative tasks for lawyers, as well as the company’s corporate department.
- Paralegal: There is not a direct English-French translation for the role of paralegal but various job postings online do show paralegal roles in France, which are very similar to that of a paralegal in the US. Paralegals that work for in-house legal teams or firms are usually responsible for drafting complex legal documents, performing legal research, drafting legal policies for companies, reviewing documents, and other highly substantial tasks.
- Clerc d’Avocat (Law Clerk): While similar in scope to that of a paralegal, the largest difference between the two is the scope of work and the certification requirements. But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. One website in France calls a Law Clerk a, “Second-in-Command Lawyer.” If that doesn’t say I do extremely substantive legal work, then I don’t know what does! As far as I could see, Law Clerks are expected to draft complex private contracts, analyze the law and provide comments, or even represent lawyers in court.
As with other countries we have looked at, paralegals, legal assistants, and legal secretaries are all non-regulated professions within France. This means there is no educational requirement for someone to work in those roles, but there will be a certain threshold employers want their candidates to meet. Research from the Economic Research Institute shows that paralegals are mostly made up of persons who have graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree (51%) but many others have an associate’s degree or no degree at all. Some universities offer programs for Paralegals (the IUT2 Grenoble–a French University–offers a 2-year paralegal studies program) and these usually involve a practicum placement (both paid and unpaid) for their career to start sooner.
On the other hand, Law Clerks are a regulated profession, as they work on the most substantial matters. They are required to complete a specific law diploma–at a minimum–called a Bac+2, with some law firms requiring even more education (+3, or +5). The number behind the diploma type is essentially the years of schooling required to become a law clerk. A +3 is the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree in the US and a +5 is a Master’s! The law clerk profession is very complex. It seems to be the closest equivalent in France to a senior paralegal in the US, especially if they have extensive training and credentials.
The Paralegal Role in the UK
Ok. So we’ve looked at France and Canada, so what’s next? Let’s explore the United Kingdom. It’s intriguing to me that regardless of where one lives in the entire world, being a paralegal is a very “universal profession.” What I mean by that is the type of work might vary a bit, but the core competencies are the same: being able to think critically, research widely, and be able to draft accurate documentation.
As I noted above, the role of a paralegal in the UK is very similar to that of paralegals in the US. Typically, they are required to complete a combination of administrative and substantive legal activities such as:
- Drafting letters and statements of account
- Schedule meetings, Diarize events
- Analyze and input legal data
- Perform legal research and analysis
- File court documents
- Attend client or claimant meetings and take notes
Additionally, the UK has a mix of legal roles like we do, as they have legal assistants, secretaries, law clerks, caseworkers, and legal executives. These positions entail comparative duties, but some are more substantial than others.
Paralegals in the UK are not regulated, so there is no set level of education set by a governing body that you need to meet in order to get hired. But, again, having a degree, diploma, or experience is almost a necessity, given how competitive the legal industry can be. Here are some of the education options aspiring paralegals in the UK have.
First, they can opt for a Graduate Diploma in Law or another related degree. This shows their potential employers that they can understand legal terminology and have already started sharpening their legal skills – much like earning a paralegal certificate here in the US. You can take varying levels of paralegal diplomas, post-graduate certificates, and many other courses through colleges and universities alike.
Second, they can choose to take on the job training through a paralegal institute while they work and earn additional qualifications with the UK’s paralegal association (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). Completing a combination of academic courses and on-the-job training can highlight a future paralegal’s “street smarts” and “book smarts.” How’s that for two birds with one stone?
Finally, up-and-coming legal workers can also take a route similar to that of a trade school in the US. Rather than taking an expensive and time-consuming university degree, college students can take a paralegal apprenticeship which allows them to hopefully train and work at the same firm throughout the course of their budding career. But, I also found that while this is the more traditional way to approach the profession, it can be quite competitive as well.
Paralegals Across the Globe
If you have been a consistent reader of our blog, you know that we love sharing practical, actionable steps along with detailed information. With that in mind, here are some key takeaways from the information above.
First, from looking at the various roles of a paralegal and other positions across the globe, it is clear that there are some core competencies you need to be a valuable legal member: communication skills, writing ability, and problem-solving capability. As long as you have these three major skills under your belt, you will be a highly mobile paralegal.
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Not sure what I mean by that? Check out our previous blog about paralegal career mobility. By becoming a more mobile paralegal, you will be able to find the career that you want, not the career that you need. And believe me, there’s a big difference. When I was managing many paralegals for a multi-national firm, you could tell which paralegals loved their job and saw it as an extension of themselves and which were in just to get by and go with the flow.
By positioning yourself as a paralegal that seeks to master their role and themselves in whatever role they are in, you will open so many doors for yourself. If you are content in your role, you will have more bargaining chips to ask for a raise or more responsibility, and if you aren’t happy, by mastering these skills you will be able to find a firm or attorney that values you. That’s a win-win. Wondering how to start working on these skills? For one, browse our site a bit more. We offer a wide variety of courses, blogs, podcasts, and other resources to help you be the best paralegal you can be. Trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed.
Secondly, you might have also noticed that nearly all paralegal professions can be entered into by either education, experience, or a combination thereof. If you are a new paralegal or reading our blog as someone looking to enter the profession, you’re in the right place! One of the most amazing things I love about this career is that nearly anyone can work as a paralegal if they have the right mindset and are willing to work hard.
You can choose exactly how you want to enter the profession, either through schooling or through gaining experience (this could be an internship/practicum or even just finding a mentor at a local law firm). In my own experience, I have found that the field can be competitive, so having a mix of education and experience is key. But, make sure also to research what firms in your area are looking for. Review paralegal job postings and take notes on certain qualifications like years of experience, preferred education, and the types of tasks that go along with those positions. And, in all honesty, don’t be afraid to start at the bottom of the food chain to work your way up. All of that has been in the profession for a long time know that very little gets handed to you on a silver platter in law – you have to work diligently for it.
Meet the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.
Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. Her training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.
When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.