What is a paralegal? What’s the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and when might it make sense to use one?

 

A Paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal assistance, but is not a qualified solicitor. However, a Paralegal can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do, except activities that are referred to as: ‘Reserved Activities’.

 

There is no statutory regulation for paralegals in the same way as there is for solicitors, so paralegals need to be prepared to show evidence of their qualifications and experience, and membership of a professional body such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).

 

When might a consumer use the services of a paralegal?

 

  1. If they are being taken to court over an alleged debt
  2. If they are taking someone to court and need assistance with regard to the process
  3. If they have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation. Many paralegals are what is known as ‘Police Station Accredited’ and that means that they can be called out to assist at a police station
  4. If they need assistance in a Matrimonial matter
  5. If they wish to take action against their employer through a Tribunal
  6. If they require assistance writing a Will or obtaining a Lasting Power of Attorney in respect of a relative
  7. If they require assistance in a housing or welfare matter

 

The above is not a definitive list of circumstances – however it covers some of the most common situations.

 

As all of the above can also be handled by a solicitor – why would someone choose a paralegal?

 

  1. Cost: Utilising the services of solicitors can be expensive. Solicitors charge on average over £200 per hour and some, more senior ones, will charge nearer to £300 per hour. On average Paralegals charge between £20 – £50 per hour for their services.

 

  1. There is virtually no legal aid anymore: Before April 2013 legal funding was available for bringing a case to court or defending an action. This has now been eradicated for all but a few cases. Paralegals are filling the gap left by the eradication of Legal Aid.

 

  1. For initial assistance before bringing in a solicitor: For example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court, a paralegal may assist at the start.

 

However, paralegals cannot help in every situation. There are some activities that Paralegals cannot undertake. These are known as ‘Reserved Activities’:

  1. Solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts: Paralegals can assist and advise litigants in person (LIP) and in some cases, subject to the discretion of the Judge, they can get permission to speak on the LIP’s behalf. Paralegals can represent their clients in small claims court and most Tribunals.
  2. Conduct litigation: Paralegals cannot conduct a case and are unable to file documents at court and make applications on a client’s behalf. However, Paralegals can assist LIPs to do this themselves.
  3. Conveyancing: For example, buying and selling property. Paralegals cannot undergo such a transaction although they can give advice about the process. Only persons who are Licensed by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers are authorised to act in a sale and purchase of property.
  4. When someone dies:  A Paralegal cannot attain, sign or deal with a Grant of Probate on behalf of a client – although a paralegal can offer advice and assist a client through this process.

 

If you do wish to offer your services as a paralegal, you can find more information on the National Association of Licensed Paralegal’s website.

 

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). Through its training arm, National Paralegal College (a trading name of NALP Training), accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional. 

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