in Employers, Job Applications, Legal Profession, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

What is the difference between a Paralegal and a Fee Earner in a Solicitors firm?

This week an LPC graduate applied for a Conveyancing Fee Earner role in Central London through us (Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment). Before every other LPC graduate sends us their CV I should add that this candidate has over 12 months residential conveyancing experience in a solicitors firm already, which is why she is an extremely suitable candidate and a good fit for this firm.

On her CV she describes herself as a Conveyancing Paralegal. Her work is to run residential conveyancing files from start to finish closely supervised by a qualified solicitor. Her firm use the term “Conveyancing Paralegal” for her job title.

We sent her CV off to the firm who, as expected, got straight back to say yes please to an interview.

We arranged the interview and sent over a confirmation of the time and date together with a few further details.

However, on our system the job title of the vacancy is described as “Conveyancing Fee Earner” and this caused great distress to this particular candidate. She called us to say that she wasn’t sure that the post was suitable because she was a paralegal, not a fee earner.

So what is the difference between a Paralegal and a Fee Earner in a solicitors firm in the UK?


It is important to understand the distinction in staff types in a solicitors firm.

There are broadly speaking two types:

  1. Staff who generate income – Fee Earners
  2. Staff who support the Fee Earners – Support Staff

How do you determine if you generate income?

If you work on files and someone, somewhere in the firm charges this to a client, then you are a fee earner.

So if you dictate a letter, see a client, work on a conveyancing file and progress matters (no matter how small), then you are a fee earner. Your time will be recorded and depending on what legal work you are doing, this will be attributed to a client who will pay for it.

If you type up a letter, fill out a form as instructed by a lawyer, arrange for a client to see a lawyer, bill a file or deal with paperwork then you are a member of the support staff. Your time will not be recorded and billed to a client.

Many years ago, as a solicitor, I worked as part of a team with a secretary. The secretary was more skilled, knowledgeable and able to deal with clients than I ever was, and was to all sense and purposes a fee earner. In fact if she had applied for a job elsewhere she could have described herself as a paralegal and gone for a paralegal job. However her job title was a secretary.

This does not mean that she would have been precluded from applying for a role as a paralegal or fee earner, even though she was described as a secretary. It just depends on what terminology you use because in reality she was a paralegal and a fee earner.

You must understand coming into the profession that certain labels will be applied to you during your time in the trade. Trainee Solicitor, Paralegal, Work Experience, Intern, Assistant Solicitor, Legal Executive, Practice Manager, Accounts Assistant – the list is endless. If you look at job titles at certain large law firms you virtually enter a whole new world of officers, managers and executives!

All of this gets back to my comment above – there are only two types of staff – Fee Earners and Support Staff. Fee earning work is work that generates income, support staff work is work that supports the staff generating income.

There is no difference between being a paralegal and fee earner in your job title – it all boils down to what you have done in your role as a paralegal or fee earner. A solicitor is a fee earner, a barrister is a fee earner, a legal executive is a fee earner. A legal secretary is not on the face of it a fee earner, neither is a Legal Cashier, a Practice Manager, a PA or a receptionist.

Learn the distinction…

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and a non-practising solicitor, although looking at the cost of the practising certificates at the moment I may well go and get mine again for the first time in 10 years! Would be nice to describe myself as a solicitor again!

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at