American Paralegal in London

J0400797 Two years ago, an adventurous Boston paralegal named Loni Morganelli, decided to jump the pond.  Landing in a prestigious London firm, Morganelli today is enjoying a unique experience in the paralegal field.  We are pleased to announce that she has joined us as a co-blogger for The Estrin Report bringing a unique and universal outlook to our blawg.  Here is her story:

"I currently work for the international law firm of Herbert Smith in London, England.  Before coming to London, I worked for the law firm Cooley Manion Jones LLP in Boston for seven years.  There, I practiced in commercial litigation for the defense team.  I was exposed to various case work in employment law, environmental law, insurance defense work, asbestos litigation, and property damage claims.  I started at the firm as a file clerk while in high school and continued to work my way up the professional ladder through college until I became a senior level paralegal.  My experiences at CMJ set the foundation for my future, providing me with top knowledge and the best mentors in the Boston legal community.

After working in Boston, I decided I needed a professional change and a whole new environment.  In order to enhance my legal career and increase my marketability and chances of working in a major international firm, I decided it would be wise to move abroad to gain both a cultural experience and international legal experience.  The year before my move, I read up on UK and European law, the professional legal structure in the UK, various law firms and working requirements.  I had always considered studying abroad in London during school but never took the chance.  I felt this was the right time to make a move while I was young and flexible.  I was also very attracted to working in the UK because of the generous vacation time and closeness of Europe for traveling.

Living and working in England is very interesting.  The pace of life is very fast, much faster than in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.  It is also one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, which can make things a bit challenging.  The standard of living is also much lower compared to America.  However, if you are earning in the higher salary range, you can still live as comfortably as you would in the U.S.

Public transportation is probably the most popular form of transport here as it is very expensive to own and drive a car in London.  The working culture is also very different from the U.S.  It seems as though offices are much younger and more relaxed with employees getting together at least once a week every week for drinks after work.  It is very common to wear jeans to work here too, as opposed to the more common business casual in America.

In terms of benefits, every UK employee and citizen receives national health insurance, unlike in America where insurance is privatized.  However, both forms of insurance exist here but everyone receives at least national insurance to start.

UK companies also offer employees more vacation time with some firms handing out 25 days a year plus holidays.  Paralegals do not earn as much as their American counterparts, however, paralegals hold a law degree from their undergraduate studies.

In general, paralegals commonly earn 23,000 – 25,000 GBP ($45,525 – $49.480) per year. Most paralegals only work for 1-3 years and then they continue their education to qualify as a solicitor or lawyer.  English paralegals also do not do as much intensive work as American paralegals.  Here, paralegals are more apt to review and make edits to documents, as opposed to actually drafting documents under the supervision of an attorney.  It is very common for paralegals, however, to review documents and do some research, although in larger firms, they have research assistants.

While there are many paralegals working in the UK, the position is not looked upon as a long-term profession the way it is in America.  Most people work 9-5 with an hour lunch at law firms.  Overtime is also popular here and is always available and compensated well.  A paralegal is unlikely to travel with an attorney unless they are heavily involved in a case or transactional deal.

At Herbert Smith, my title is Professional Support Information Officer for the U.S. Corporate Team.  I'm responsible for organizing and managing the library dedicated to U.S. Corporate Law and Security and Exchange Commission.  I supervise three entry-level paralegals, also American, on projects involving this library.  I also assist my supervisor, a Senior Assoicate for the U.S. Team, on training semars and legal programs for new associates, clients, and other firms.

My toughest challenge was actually locating a position with a firm that would sponsor me for a work permit.  In the UK, a citizen of the U.S. or of a country not part of the European Union needs to prove that no one else can do the same job or that only they possess the skills to do the job.  As you can imagine, that can be quite difficult to prove sometimes.

Being able to travel around Europe and experience new cultures and people is a terrific benefit.  There is nothing better than gaining an appreciation for another country's history and culture than seeing it first hand.

I located my job through networking with the American Women Lawyers in London. Paralegals interested in working in my specialty should do a good amount of networking and research. Target U.S. firms located abroad or U.S. Practice Teams in firms abroad.  Anyone interested in working abroad should learn a second language, particularly French, German, Italian, Spanish or Russian.  Knowing one of these languages instantly makes you an attractive candidate.

After another year or two in London, I plan to relocate back to the U.S. and pursue a career in legal education and professional conferences or seek a position with the U.S. Government.  I'm also considering pursuing a master's degree in event planning or possibly head to law school in the future.

On a personal note, I want to say how honored I am to be included in this blog. I fully support the work that Estrin does and believe that it continues to enhance and add prestige to the paralegal profession."

Read Loni Morganelli's column, American Paralegal in London in KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals and catch her articles in SUE, For Women in LItigation.  Her books, "My Mommy is a Paralegal" and "My Mommy is a Lawyer" for children, 3-7 years old, will be available soon.