Opinion | 26-02-16

What are the career options for those not wanting to pursue a training contract?

We speak to law graduates every day who are struggling to find training contracts. The market is extremely competitive and it will most likely always remain this way. As a result we have seen a shift in attitudes towards paralegal positions and other non-qualified legal roles. In this article we focus on the non-qualified market and our consultant Kelly Loydon highlights the career opportunities within the financial services sector. 


Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of law and LPC graduates looking to take their legal career in another direction; one that does not involve a training contract. Competition is fierce and even those with excellent academic qualifications are finding it hard to pursue their original career path. Many of these graduates are now choosing to focus on a career as a paralegal. In today’s market this really is a career choice. In the US, career paralegals are already commonplace and we are now seeing this trend develop in the UK. This is particularly common within financial services and in businesses such as investment banks, funds, asset managers and insurance companies. 


The nature of paralegal roles within financial services 


Many of the roles that we work on for our in-house financial services clients are roles for a “sole paralegal” within a small legal team. These individuals are highly valued members of the team. They often act as the first point of contact within the legal department and enjoy high levels of responsibility. For instance, we see many funds paralegals negotiating IMAs, NDAs, third party contracts etc; in some teams this type of work would typically be undertaken by a junior lawyer. 


A position within a small team in-house is an excellent way for you as a paralegal to raise your profile. Compared to a paralegal within a law firm where you may be one of many, here you are one of only a few or even the only paralegal; consequently you really have the opportunity to make an impact and rise to the challenges of the role. We also very often see individuals start off as a paralegal and then progress into a more business facing role after a few years or even in some cases actually be offered a training contract. In fact we are currently recruiting for an in-house client who has already stipulated that a candidate with the right attitude could be offered a training contract in the future.


These individuals have come to realise that being a paralegal does not necessarily mean they will earn less and a career as a paralegal within financial services definitely does not mean that this is the case. Paralegals within this sector can expect to earn between £30,000 as an entry level all the way up to £80,000 in some niche areas of law. For instance, ISDA negotiators with EFET experience were highly sought after earlier this year and were able to command top salaries as a result.


Opportunities in Compliance and Company Secretarial 


A role within compliance is also another option for those individuals with a legal background who do not go down the qualified route. Careers such as compliance and company secretarial are also extremely well suited to individuals with legal backgrounds and are just as rewarding. The financial benefits are also comparable to lawyers within the financial services sector, making this kind of career a lucrative alternative to pure legal. 


Compliance is an incredibly busy area and has been so for a number of years. Many of the skills required are highly transferable for an individual with a legal education and background; attention to detail, analytical skills and an ability to interpret regulation and legislation are all very important. Therefore, graduates looking for a paralegal role in compliance will find that many employers are happy to consider hiring them and offering them the opportunity to work their way up the ladder. (You can read more about a career in compliance in another of our articles Changing tack: The journey from legal to compliance within the financial services sector.)


As an entry level compliance analyst you would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the company’s own code of ethics as well as working to ensure compliance is in line with required regulations. As well as keeping up to date with compliance filing requirements and any subsequent deadlines you may also be involved in KYC (Know Your Client) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) checks among a multitude of other possible duties.


As a law graduate you might not have considered a career as a Company Secretary however, it can be an exciting option. Again, skills are transferable for law graduates and although Company Secretaries are not required to provide legal advice, their role is to guide the board in relation to the responsibilities under the rules and regulations they are bound by. Therefore Company Secretarial professionals must always be up to date with legislation, allowing these professionals to always keep a connection with the legal side of the business. 


The non-qualified market is becoming more and more prominent given the real career paths that paralegal roles and those within compliance and company secretarial can offer. These roles are genuinely interesting, giving individuals the opportunity to stay within the wider legal sector without having to secure a training contract and work their way up the traditional law firm ladder.