Paralegals are defined as ‘persons who are trained and educated to perform certain legal tasks, but who are not qualified solicitors, barristers or chartered legal executives’.
As an owner of a company, you have to cope with a broad spectrum of expenditure for all areas of your business. Not least, having the right legal advice and assistance when required, is essential. However, solicitors’ fees can be quite debilitating and place an undue burden on finances. No matter – nowadays, there are other legal professionals that may be able to offer the same or similar services for a fraction of the cost.
In 2007, The Legal Services Act, sought to liberalise and encourage competition in the market for legal services in England and Wales. This statute, together with the withdrawal of Legal Aid (for all but the most urgent cases) means that there is no longer funding to assist consumers financially in bringing an action or defending an action through the courts.
This has, in turn, encouraged more and more people to train and qualify as paralegals in order to plug the gap that remains. A paralegal professional is not statutorily regulated in the same way as other legal professions, like solicitors, and therefore is able to charge a fraction of the cost that a solicitor may charge. However, this does not mean that they are any less knowledgeable, diligent or professional than Solicitors.
Paralegals are trained in the same way as solicitors are. They study the same areas of law and procedure and have the same level of experience. However, they cannot call themselves ‘solicitors’ or hold themselves out e.g. infer that they are solicitors, if they have not fulfilled the criteria laid down by the regulatory body, the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority).
Paralegals are regulated by NALP which is a self-regulatory body. In other words, it can only regulate its own members. This is the reason why every paralegal should be encouraged to join NALP as a member. This will differentiate them from those who are not NALP members.
Many NALP paralegals are setting themselves up as independent practitioners. NALP can provide them with a Licence to Practise (subject to fulfilling eligibility criteria) and assist them in gaining PII (Professional Indemnity Insurance) to do so.
Attracting and retaining top talent is always a challenge – but by offering formal recognition for your Paralegal staff, and perhaps allowing them days off for training, you can attract better applicants and retain your best people.
People like to be recognized and rewarded for the work they do – this is one way to achieve that. On the flip-side, ignoring their status and the contribution of these valuable employees, may lead to a talent exodus as staff look for fulfilment elsewhere.
For Paralegals already working within your company, there are bespoke nationally recognised qualifications to help them hone their skills and knowledge – building their confidence and increasing the services you offer to customers.
There are however, certain activities that designated ‘reserved activities’ and these remain the monopoly of solicitors. For example: automatically having the right to represent someone in all courts, the conveyancing process (i.e. buying and selling property) and some probate activities (i.e. sorting out a person’s estate (assets) after they die).
Apart from the above, there remains plenty of scope for a Paralegal within your company to perform valuable tasks, without the need to approach a solicitor.
To find out more contact NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals)
About the author
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of NALP, a non-profit Membership Body as well as being the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England & Wales). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.