By Amanda Hamilton, NALP
The legal sector is changing rapidly, and more and more people are referring to themselves as 'Paralegals'. Paralegals can work for solicitors and barristers, and may also offer their services to consumers as individual practitioners.
Most Paralegals offer a great service, at a fraction of the cost of a solicitor or barrister, but it is still worth ensuring that you are using a registered practitioner.
Here are three questions, that as a consumer, you need to ask your preferred Paralegal before you engage them:
If you are approached by an individual referring to themselves as a 'Paralegal' and they do not work for a solicitor or barrister, then you should ensure that they are a member of a professional body such as NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals) or registered with the PPR (Professional Paralegal Register).
In addition, they should have either a NALP Licence to Practise or a PPR Practising Certificate, and should have professional indemnity insurance (PII). In order to safeguard yourself, you should not accept assistance from anyone purporting to be a Paralegal if they cannot provide evidence of their training, qualification or membership to such a professional body.
Ensure that the activity you need help with is something that a Paralegal is allowed to deal with. Essentially, Paralegals can do almost everything a solicitor can do. They can perform a variety of different legal tasks and do not necessarily just work alongside, or for solicitors. They can work for barristers, in company legal departments, local authorities, NHS, charities and may even be in practice for themselves.
However, there are a few exceptions. These are known as ‘reserved activities’ i.e. activities that still remain the monopoly of solicitors.
For example, to buy or sell property, an individual must be a solicitor or Licensed Conveyancer (licensed through the Council for Licensed Conveyancers), otherwise they cannot perform a conveyancing transaction on your behalf.
A Paralegal cannot apply for a Grant of Probate on behalf of an Executor of a Will after someone dies, although they can advise the Executor her/himself how to go about it.
Paralegals do not have an automatic right to appear in all courts on behalf of a client, although they can represent a client at most Tribunals and before a District Judge in small civil claims in the County Court. However, most higher Courts will, at the discretion of the Judge, and with prior notice of representation being given, accept a Paralegal to represent a litigant, provided the Judge is of the opinion that the Paralegal is competent to do so.
Unfortunately in life, sometimes things go wrong. If this has happened, what can you do? How can you make a complaint?
Making a complaint if the Paralegal is employed:
- Communicate your concerns to the Paralegal to give him/her a chance to put things right. If you get no joy from this, then if the Paralegal is employed,
- contact the employer clearly stating your complaints to give them a chance to sort it out. If, however, you are still not satisfied,
- you can take the matter further by contacting the Legal Ombudsman (Office of Legal Complaints). However, this route only applies to Paralegals who are employed by a regulated professional such as a solicitor or a barrister.
What if the Paralegal does not work for a solicitor or barrister but does work as an independent practitioner?
If the Paralegal is working for themselves and has not put things right to your satisfaction and the Paralegal is a member of NALP or another body then you can:
- Communicate your concerns to the Paralegal to give him/her a chance to put things right. If you are not satisfied then:
- Make a complaint in writing and request an investigation to the Paralegal's Membership Body. The membership body will investigate and then respond within a given time frame. See NALP's Policy regarding complaints about a member.
How does NALP safeguard the Consumer?
NALP has Codes of Conduct and Ethics for members and Guidance to members on Offering Legal Services and Holding Out to which all NALP registered Members have to agree. It is now also a requirement that if a Paralegal wishes to offer legal services, he or she must have Professional Indemnity Insurance and either a NALP Licence to Practise, or PPR Practising Certificate. NALP can apply stringent sanctions against any member against whom a complaint has been made and is upheld.
Many Paralegals work as freelancers mostly getting work from solicitors or barristers. The difference is that the solicitor does not employ them since they are self-employed. However, any freelancer doing a job for a solicitor or barrister is covered by their insurance. Some freelancers may do work for their own clients and if this is so, be careful to go through the necessary steps mentioned above in order to protect yourself.
In conclusion, always be sure to check that your Paralegal is registered and has the appropriate insurance. Paralegals can help with a wide variety of legal issues, and many specialise in particular areas, for example dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants, or chasing debts, and they charge much less than solicitors, so they are well worth considering if you have a legal issue.
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, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
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