NALP Response to Professor Mayson's Independent Review of Legal Services Provision

We at NALP have taken our time in contemplating the content of the Review by Professor Mayson, published in June 2020, as there are a lot of details and recommendations to consider and we did not feel this is something that could, or should, be rushed.

The Review makes some very interesting points in its opening remarks, such as:

Summary of Overall Response:

NALP has never been averse to paralegals being subject to additional statutory regulation, provided that this is proportionate and takes all prevailing factors into account. At NALP we have always ensured that our Code of Conduct and Ethics, and all guidance, etc. provided to our members are in line with those of our statutory regulated colleagues and their membership bodies such as the Law Society. We have strived to ensure that our members meet the same high standards they would be held to under statutory regulation, despite our being a voluntary regulatory body.

NALP is the oldest established membership and voluntary regulatory body for Paralegals in the UK, having been in place since 1987. We are also the only voluntary regulatory body that is also a Recognised Awarding Organisation, offering qualifications that are fully regulated by Ofqual, specifically designed for paralegals. We have strived to forge good working relationships with the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Board, as well as having an excellent relationship with The Law Society with whom we meet regularly. We operate transparently and with the highest integrity and expect the same of our members.

Whilst NALP acts as an advocate for its members, striving to increase the recognition of this often undervalued profession, we are also acutely aware of the consumers that tend to use the services of a Paralegal rather than one of the more traditional, authorised legal services providers. We know from the information that we gain via our members that these are often among the most vulnerable in our society – those with little legal knowledge and very little money. With the virtual eradication of the availability of legal aid for the vast majority of legal services, there has been a huge increase in Litigants in Person and many of these will turn to Paralegals for advice and guidance through the legal maze that they find themselves in. However, we also find that we are still fighting the impression from many others in the Legal Services Sector, including the Judiciary, that a Paralegal is merely a ‘wannabe solicitor/barrister’. Even 30+ years later, this prejudice is still something encountered by our members on an almost daily basis.

Our Key Concerns

In terms of the current legal services sector regulation, we can see that some change would be welcome and even necessary. We are not, however, convinced that Professor Mayson’s opinion that the benefit of the wholesale change he proposes would be worth the additional cost that would undoubtedly come with it. Our main concern is that these costs would:

NALP recognises that the primary objective of the proposed reforms is to protect and promote the public interest and would agree that this should be the main focus of any statutory regulation. We are also well aware, however, that there is a great deal of unmet legal needs at this time and that the main reason so many of these needs go unmet is because of the cost of legal services.

An unavoidable fact of life is that additional statutory regulation and registration brings with it additional cost. It has been made clear that Professor Mayson expects that any future regulatory environment would be funded by those requiring authorisation. He also states that this would be a two-pronged approach, with both the organisation offering legal services and the individuals within that organisation providing those services needing to be jointly and separately registered and authorised. This will increase the cost for both the currently regulated and unregulated legal services providers.

Professor Mayson has suggested a ‘bottom up’ registration so that providers offering the lowest risk services could be authorised for these, but he has also stated that some of the services offered by Paralegals would fall into the higher risk categories. We recognise that more details would need to be known to understand exactly how this would work, but we are apprehensive that the very services that vulnerable consumers need may suddenly be outside of their financial reach. For instance, Professor Mayson accepts in his report that consumers who have had issues with incompetent Will-writing were just as likely to suffer these issues with regulated as with non-regulated providers. However, how many more issues is the Probate Registry likely to have to deal with if regulation forces the making of an effective Will out of the financial reach for many more consumers, who may then be inclined to write some things on the back of the proverbial beer coaster in the hope that it will suffice when the time comes? Reason would indicate that an increase in costs will result in a decrease in the ability of consumers to afford those services which will mean a lot more consumers being unable to benefit from having a valid and effective Will in place.

Professor Mayson has quoted the Law Society as saying:

the unintended consequences could well be many small firms leaving the market, the legal sector contracting, and the cost of legal services increasing, leading to further unmet demand. There would also be serious implications for diversity, with many smaller firms having [black and minority ethnic] partners, staff and suppliers. In many cases smaller firms deal with a higher proportion of vulnerable clients, who could also be affected.

NALP agrees with The Law Society’s opinion and would echo these statements in relation to Professional Paralegal Practitioners. It mirrors our experience of these issues and our anxiety around the proposals being put forward.

As Professor Mayson states, the proposals put forward in his report would need a great deal more work and consultation prior to any of these being put into place. NALP would welcome the opportunity to be part of those consultations as we do not feel that the concerns of Paralegals have been adequately presented to, or addressed by, this review.

To read the full response from NALP, click here