Do you have paralegals in your business? Are they recognised? It can be tempting for solicitors not to give paralegals the recognition they deserve, particularly if it reduces costs.
However, formally recognising paralegals can encourage clients by providing comfort that they are being dealt with by a recognised professional. Also, if paralegal staff sign up to a professional membership body, such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals, they have access to training and can gain formal qualifications – adding value to your firm and its reputation.
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’.
In today’s legal climate, which has changed so dramatically over recent years, paralegals have taken on a new significance. Some do work for solicitors, and others for barristers and in-house legal departments, but more often paralegals are working for themselves (for example, in specialist areas such as tenant evictions or small claims for money owed). For a law firm, having access to registered, specialist paralegals allows you to offer a wide range of services. These paralegals may be employed by your firm or contracted on a freelance basis.
This shift towards using paralegals is happening because an increasing number are filling a gap left by the eradication of legal aid.
Paralegals are no longer just graduates who cannot find training contracts, or ‘would be’ solicitors. Of course, some may wish to be given the opportunity, but for the most part the paralegal profession is a genuine career option for many who may not be given that chance.
Attracting and retaining top talent is always a challenge, but by offering formal recognition for paralegals (and perhaps allowing them days off for training) you can attract better applicants and retain your best people.
People like to be recognised and rewarded for their work – this is one way to achieve that. On the flip side, ignoring the status and contribution of your ‘non-qualified-solicitor staff’ may lead to a talent exodus as they look for fulfilment elsewhere – perhaps by setting up their own independent practice. It is therefore in solicitors’ best interests to properly recognise the value of their paralegal staff and their status.
For paralegals at your firm, there are bespoke, nationally recognised qualifications to help hone skills and knowledge, building their confidence and improving the service you offer to clients.
And, of course, there is always the opportunity to delegate more work to paralegals if they are suitably qualified. This can free you up to take on more clients (or perhaps have an afternoon off, now and then).
Remember, paralegals can do virtually everything a solicitor can do, including, but not limited to: assistance in a matrimonial matter; helping with a claim if a client is being taken to court over a debt or needs to take a third party to court to recover a debt; taking action against an employer through a tribunal; writing a will or obtaining a lasting power of attorney in respect of a relative; and housing and welfare matters. You could also apply for ‘police station accreditation’ for paralegals so that they can assist clients who have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation.
Of course, there are ‘reserved activities’ and these remain the monopoly of solicitors.
Otherwise, however, there is plenty of scope for a paralegal within your firm not only to advise and assist a consumer, but also to gain a licence to practise in order to do so.
Amanda Hamilton is chief executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals