The evolving role of the paralegal

While paralegals may not be solicitors, that does not mean that they cannot offer support for professional support lawyers (PSLs)…

Paralegals are trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal services. PSLs should consider utilising their services as support within the PSL team to enable the team to be more productive.

Paralegals cannot officially perform ‘reserved activities’ (as defined by Section 12 of The Legal Services Act 2007), however there are still a wide range of activities that they can perform. Moreover, some of the ‘reserved activities’ are being eroded in practice, such as ‘rights of audience’. Many judges, at their discretion, are permitting paralegals to represent clients in court, who are litigants in person (LIPS), subject to being satisfied as to their competency to do so.

Another reserved activity, the right to conduct litigation, can be authorised by the PSL depending on whether the paralegal is employed by the firm or working on a contractual basis.

Using the services of properly accredited, qualified and trained paralegals can boost the economy of any solicitor’s practice and positively benefit the role of the PSL.

Growth in the paralegal sector

The reason for the growing abundance of paralegals in the sector stems from several factors. Firstly, the cost of training: spending £27k on a law degree and then another £16k on the professional exams (whether aiming towards becoming a solicitor or barrister) is quite a costly process. Secondly: there are not enough training contracts or pupillages to go around. Competition is so great that many are opting for another career – that of the paralegal. The increase in competition is due to the rise in the number of institutions running the professional courses, especially over the last 20 years.

With many paralegals gaining a Licence to Practise, having a PLL in place and setting up their own firms to offer legal services to clients, it makes economic sense to outsource work to them.

A collaborative effort

Whether PSLs like it or not, paralegals are stepping in to assist consumers at the lower end of the market because of the virtual eradication of legal aid for all but the most urgent cases. As such, they are offering access to justice at a reasonable cost. Why shouldn’t PSLs use their services and pass on the value to their clients? As long as there is transparency regarding who is dealing with their cases, it could end up being a win-win scenario for all concerned.

Always check credentials

One of the arguments against utilising a paralegal is that they are not statutorily regulated in the same way as solicitors or barristers. That means that anyone can call themselves a paralegal. It is therefore imperative, that as a PSL or a manager, you always check the credentials of a prospective paralegal employee by ensuring they are properly accredited. NALP is the foremost paralegal membership body for paralegals in England and Wales and has strict codes of practice. NALP also offers nationally accredited paralegal qualifications and is an Ofqual regulated awarding organisation.

Finally, because paralegals are not regulated in the same way as solicitors or barristers, it is vital that they do not hold-out. This means that they must be clear that they are paralegals and cannot infer in anyway, either explicitly or implicitly, that they are solicitors or barristers. This must also be made clear to any client whose case is being dealt with by a paralegal employed by the PSL.

This article was written by Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP)