Why I worked as a Paralegal before my training contract

We explore how hands-on experience in a legal role can be fantastic preparation for a graduate role with a City law firm

Alex Blakeney graduated from Kings London in 2013 with a degree in History. He went on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law before undertaking a vacation scheme with Mayer Brown. This led to the offer of a training contract, which he begins in autumn 2016.

“Law was always there at the back of my mind throughout university as a potential career option. I love challenging myself and the great thing about law is that – regardless of what stage you’re at in your career – there are always opportunities to learn and develop new skills. 

“This is especially true in a City law firm – being in London, it’s a chance to learn about the different businesses that form the financial services sector. Having this level of exposure early on in your career is a massive advantage. 

“Having received the offer of a training contract from Mayer Brown I asked the firm if they had any suggestions as to what I might do in the interim before I began the LPC course. 

“Incredibly, they were able to arrange a work placement as a paralegal at the London offices of one of their clients, accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP – the UK member firm of the BDO International network.”

Trailblazing

“The in-house legal team at BDO in London is quite small, consisting of around eight lawyers. They hadn’t had a paralegal join the team before, so it was a new situation for all of us. The idea was that I would shadow the lawyers and support them with their day-to-day tasks.

“There was plenty of flexibility – the more I learnt and the more I became familiar with the firm, the more I was able to tailor the role to my own skills and interests. For instance, a typical day could involve anything from helping the legal team to manage their caseload and draft documents, to shadowing one of the team as they presented in court. 

“A particular highlight was getting to sit in on a mediation case with a client that was being run in-house. The mediation came to light at short notice, so it involved a busy week of getting mediation submissions together, communicating directly with the legal team acting for the defendants and ensuring that everything was in order for the day itself. 

“We had an external barrister representing us, so this also meant the opportunity to pay a visit to a barrister’s chambers to discuss the strategy for the case.” 

Learning on the job

“As well as developing my legal skills, the work placement was an opportunity to get to know BDO’s wider operations and to see how the different parts of the business fit together.  

“The world of accounting and audit is very complex – you really have to get to grips with numbers and be aware of what each department and business does. 

“As a lawyer it’s essential that you’re able to understand your client’s business and the work they do. Your knowledge levels need to be as good as the people within the professions themselves, if not better.

“Luckily I had spent some time developing an understanding of tax prior to joining the firm, so I was in a position to hit the ground running from day one. 

“During the course of my work placement BDO’s legal team was involved in drawing up contractual agreements, which meant liaising regularly with the firm’s network offices overseas on conference calls. 

“I was also able to get to know people across various departments in BDO’s London offices, and sat in on a meeting with some of the most senior people at the firm.” 

A different perspective 

“Alongside my day-to-day responsibilities, I was entrusted with my own project, which was to help manage legal risk. This involved monitoring and keeping track of any legal claims filed against BDO and to keep the team updated with any emerging risks that might pose a threat to the firm. 

“It was essential that a good record was kept of any claims and that the lawyers knew when a significant threat was emerging so they could act on it.

“Seeing how an in-house legal team tackles legal issues was a great eye-opener. When a significant risk develops, one of the first things an organisation does is to decide whether they have the capacity to deal with the issue in-house or if they need to outsource it to an external legal team. 

“As a future lawyer, being able to see risks and claims at the beginning of the lifecycle and watch them as they developed was a fascinating experience. It allowed me to better understand the thought processes involved, and the kind of service a major organisation like BDO looks for from its legal services providers.” 

Looking forward

“I have no doubt that the experience of working as a paralegal will stand me in very good stead later on in my legal career. 

‘It goes without saying that my skill set broadened significantly through the experience. Much of the work of an in-house lawyer involves meeting and building relationships with external legal teams, and you soon grasp how important communication skills are to the whole process. 

“In addition to gaining some great contacts across different industries, I’ve also built on my commercial awareness. I now have a much firmer understanding of how the financial services sector fits together. 

“Perhaps the best thing about working client side, however, is the insight it gives you into how organisations think and how they approach legal issues when they arise. 

“Having seen the process from both sides, I’m now in a far better position to understand what clients expect from their external counsel and how – as a commercial lawyer – I should go about delivering this. Now all that’s left is to get started!

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