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The benefits of giving the paralegals in your firm formal recognition - Amanda Hamilton, NALP

21/05/18. Do you have Paralegals working in your firm? Are they being recognised? It can be tempting not to give Paralegals the recognition they deserve, particularly if it appears to reduce costs.

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’.

Formally recognising the Paralegals within your firm has many benefits:

  1. It can encourage clients by giving them comfort that they are being dealt with by a recognised professional - even if they are not seeing a Solicitor.

  1. If your Paralegal staff sign-up to a professional membership body like the National Association of Licenced Paralegals, they have access to training and can gain formal qualifications, adding value to your firm and its reputation.

  1. The legal climate has changed dramatically over the past few years and Paralegals have taken on a new significance in the roles they perform. Some do work for solicitors, others for barristers and in-house legal departments, but more and more, Paralegals are working for themselves. For example, in specialist areas like tenant evictions or small claims for money owed. For a legal firm, having access to registered, specialist Paralegals can allow you to offer a wide range of services. These Paralegals may be employed within your firm, or contracted on a freelance basis.

This shift towards using Paralegals is happening because an increasing number of Paralegals are filling a gap that has been left by the eradication of legal aid.

  1. Paralegals are no longer just graduates who cannot find training contracts or ‘would be’ solicitors. Some may wish to be given the opportunity of course, but for the most part, the Paralegal Profession is a genuine career path 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 your Paralegal staff, and perhaps allowing them days off for training, or offering to pay for their training, or releasing time during work hours to help them complete the training tasks, you can attract better applicants and retain your best people.

  1. People like to be recognized and rewarded for the work they do – 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 staff look for fulfilment elsewhere – perhaps by setting up their own independent practice. It is therefore in the solicitors’ best interests to properly recognize the value of their paralegal staff and their status.

For Paralegals working within your firm, there are bespoke nationally recognized qualifications to help them hone their skills and knowledge – building their confidence and increasing the services you offer to clients.

  1. If your Paralegals are suitably trained and qualified this can create the opportunity to delegate more work to them, freeing you up to take on more clients – or perhaps have an afternoon off now and then!

Remember, Paralegals can do virtually everything that 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; housing and welfare matters. You could also apply for ‘Police Station Accreditation’ for your Paralegal staff so that they can assist clients who have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation.

However, there are 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 this, 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.

To find out more contact NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals)

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).

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