It is not unusual for training contracts to be awarded to former paralegals at a law firm. If this has happened to you, you might be thinking that there will not be much of a change between being paralegal and being a trainee. Do not be mistaken, there is a big change, not just in respect to the complexity of work but how you are treated within the firm.
Admin or legal work?
The difference in the type of work you do as a trainee really depends upon the type of paralegal role you had before. Some paralegal roles involve a lot of admin tasks, whereas others consist mainly of fee earning work. The more drafting and legal research you have done as a paralegal, the less of a jump there will be to a trainee.
Even then, the amount of legal work you are given at trainee level can vary. Departments are often comparatively quiet in the summer months, and you may find yourself with more admin to do than a trainee in the same seat during the winter months. Sometimes the nature of the work in that department does not generate many trainee level tasks, and so you might find yourself doing legal work here and there, but of a high level of complexity, and admin the rest of the time.
As a paralegal, you get to know the team you work with really well, and when it comes to starting your training contract, it is comforting to know that there are already familiar faces in the firm.
However, as a trainee, the firm presents you with many more opportunities to meet new people and actively encourages participation in all firm events. Even from the start at the trainee induction, you are introduced to whole host of people in the firm. You will meet even more as you move between departments. You will find yourself regularly being asked questions by many of different people, usually regarding your seats and how you are finding the training contract so far. As a paralegal, you simply do not get the same exposure.
Remember, you know nothing
As a past paralegal, an easy trap to fall into is thinking that you already know what you are doing. Try to avoid over selling yourself! It is much better to exceed someone's expectations than fail to meet them. The risk is that you may have underestimated how much you know about that area of law. You will be better received in a team if you want to learn from them, as opposed to if you assume that you already know how to do their jobs.
Paralegals will often be in departments for extended periods of time, often for at least a year. This means that they will often have quite a depth of knowledge about that particular area of law. Trainees, however, are only in a seat for 6 months. Do not underestimate how helpful the paralegals can be, so draw upon their knowledge. You might also feel more comfortable asking them the questions you are hesitant to ask of a qualified fee earner!
The biggest difference
Unless you always knew what area you wanted to qualify into, one of the biggest differences to being a paralegal is the looming pressure to decide where you want to qualify as a solicitor at the end of your training contract. You need to make a good impression with the team in each seat, and you need to have acquired a basic knowledge of that area of law, so that on qualification you have created a solid foundation from which to build upon. As a paralegal, there is no such pressure.