What is a Paralegal?
A Paralegal is a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures but who is not a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector. Paralegals can now offer legal services directly to their own clients provided they have a Practising Certificate through the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR).
Paralegals are the 'Fourth Arm of The Legal Profession'
Within the legal profession, solicitors have always relied upon their unadmitted support staff and could not operate effectively without them. Paralegals are important members of the legal team, playing key roles in the legal process. The work that Paralegals undertake is quite often virtually indistinguishable from that undertaken by the Solicitors who employ them.
However, Paralegals have, in recent years, taken on a new significance with the virtual eradication of Legal Aid, meaning that Consumers are unable to afford the fees of solicitors. Consequently, there is an increasing demand for less costly access to justice, and well trained and qualified Paralegals with experience are filling this gap. Paralegals are truly the 'Fourth Arm of The Legal Profession'.
The term 'Paralegal' is generic but 'PPR Registered Paralegal' is not
The term, or title, 'Paralegal' has caught on within the legal profession and is now used almost exclusively to describe fee earners or part fee earners amongst unadmitted staff who are not chartered legal executives. 'Paralegal' and 'Legal Assistant', as titles, are synonymous. However, unlike the term 'Chartered Legal Executive' or 'PPR Registered Paralegal', which are specific titles, the term 'Paralegal' on its own is, as stated, is generic.
Paralegals must strive for professional excellence
It is essential that Paralegals strive for personal and professional excellence. They should possess integrity, professional skills and dedication to the improvement and expansion of the Paralegal role in the delivery of legal services.The importance of this can be seen from the relevant statistics. Whereas there are some 130,000 (plus) practising solicitors there are estimated to be over 200,000 unadmitted staff who carry out direct 'fee earning' work in law firms or work in legal environments of companies or are sole paralegal practitioners. Some maybe trainee chartered legal executives, but the rest are, by definition, 'Paralegals' - the largest sector of the legal profession.
Being a law graduate does not mean you can perform Paralegal work
Graduating with a Law Degree (the academic side of learning the Law) does not necessarily mean a person is qualified to do paralegal work. Further training is required to gain knowledge of the practical and procedural side of the profession.
For law graduates who have not been able to afford the LPC, or obtain a training contract, an alternative career as a Professional Paralegal can provide many opportunities, including the possibility of working for yourself as a paralegal practitioner providing you meet the eligibility requirements to gain a PPR Practising Certificate
Working in other sectors
Many organisations within commerce and industry need and benefit from employees who have a broad knowledge of law and procedure together with an expertise applicable to their particular sector. Paralegals can, therefore, be seen working in areas such as Financial Services, Insurance, Banking, Building Societies, the Retail Sector, Credit Control, Export, Entertainment and the Media, NHS etc. In the Public Sector are Government Departments, Local Authorities, Court and Tribunal Staff, Welfare, the Probation Services, Social Services, the Police. In these areas a Paralegal qualification can be invaluable.