Growth area for paralegals
There is no doubt that Covid has affected all our lives in an unprecedented way. Fortunately, we are now seeing a slow recovery from lockdown, but we have yet to see the serious after-effects, mental, physical, economical and legal, on individuals and businesses. Only time will give us this information.
As we pick up the pieces, the question for the paralegal profession is; in legal terms, where may we see the most growth in issues? Where can we, as an industry, offer the most value and support to clients who need access to legal advice at an affordable cost?
The financial downside for many individuals being furloughed may not be obvious since during lockdown we have not been able to spend money. No retail therapy, no dining out, no clubbing, in fact little fun at all! But as we climb out of lockdown will we go straight back into spending if we have to re-negotiate our rents, leases, mortgages and jobs?
1) Debt recovery and payment negotiation
Some debts may have been written off. Similarly, mortgage installment holidays may have been granted to borrowers during lockdown. But now we are on the road to a complete easing of lockdown it’s likely many lenders will start to ask for the debts to be repaid. How will we cope with the consequences, if for example, mortgage lenders decide to pursue borrowers? Or banks decide to foreclose on debts? There may be a knock-on effect on businesses, if for example, invoices are not paid, or deliveries not made.
So, I anticipate that a growth area for paralegals will be supporting clients who are being chased for money they owe, and likewise supporting those who are owed money. In particular, we’ll see an increase in claims through the small claims court.
2) Employment issues
Our working lives will no doubt change. Some may be required to revert to travelling to work, but others will be asked to continue working remotely. Can your employer force you to continue working from home, or on the other hand, can they force you to return to the office if you are not comfortable doing so? This may be an employment law issue where both employees and employers need legal support and advice.
Employment law claims may arise as a result of safety issues such as an employer not insisting on social distancing or mask wearing, and an employee refusing to go to work as a result of this. Can the employer force the employee to come to work, or can the employee legitimately decline to do so. It may boil down to the clauses in the employee’s employment contract, or simply that the employer is being unreasonable. In either scenario, an employment tribunal case may ensue if the employee is dismissed, or if the employee brings a claim of constructive dismissal.
3) Litigation for breach of contract
There may well be an increase in civil litigation claims based on breaches of contract. For example, if a consumer purchases an item online from a business that relies on deliveries of materials, but the supplier hasn’t enough capital to purchase the materials in the first place, this could give rise to serial breaches of contract. Some may be legally enforceable, others may be covered by ‘force majeure’ clauses. And it is likely all will require some legal advice or support.
4) Landlord and Tenant
Tenants who can’t afford to pay their rent because they have lost their job, may find that they will be evicted if their landlord serves a Notice to Quit on them. With the eviction ban now over, we may see landlords look to reclaim properties from tenants who are severely behind on their rent or who are indulging in anti-social behaviour. Again, both parties are likely to need to legal help in this situation.
In turn this could lead to an increase in numbers of homeless people needing welfare benefits and emergency housing.
5) Criminal behaviour and court backlogs
There may also be a rise in criminal activity as individuals become increasingly desperate and may resort to committing minor offences, such as shoplifting, to keep themselves afloat.
Bearing in mind that throughout lockdown, the court system has clogged up due to the inability to have face-to-face hearings, and as a result of staff having to work remotely. The consequence of this being, that any potential case, be it civil or criminal, may affect the mental state of an individual, while they wait an unduly long period of time for their case to be heard.
So, in summing up, while we do not know for sure how things will pan out after we come out of lockdown, there could well be an increase in cases involving debts, employment law, breaches of contract, welfare and housing law and possibly an increase in criminal behaviour in the near future. And this is where paralegals can offer support and advice for clients who may not have the means to afford a solicitor.