What Paralegals Are Saying About the Pandemic

We've been in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic for over six months now and with new developments in working from home and wage subsidies replacing the furlough scheme, it seems as if we're still a long way from normality.

Here at NALP, we thought this would be a good time to check the pulse of our members to gauge how paralegals have had their work affected by the lockdown and subsequent restrictions. We gathered responses from over 10% of our membership about their professional experiences and hopes for the future. Read on to see what your peers make of the current situation.

Overview

Overall, the responses represent a rather mixed bag for our profession. No one was expecting to see positive effects from COVID-19, but the negative impact seems to been less severe than could be expected. In terms of job security, only 1 in 7 respondents said they had seen redundancies in their place of work, but to what extent this is a result of the furlough scheme resulting in job retention remains to be seen.

As you know, paralegals have very different specialisations and very different roles in the legal industry. They could work for a law firm, freelance, or run their own practice. As such the impact of COVID-19 has been felt differently across the different groups within the profession. Let's dig a bit deeper into how these different groups have felt the recent changes...

Paralegal students

Because of our online tools and resources, students have been able to continue their courses and submit their work entirely remotely since the lockdown. However, they are also faced with finding a career in this unstable job market. Respondents said that it's possible to find work remotely, but that opportunities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are thin on the ground right now.

Working in a law firm

Paralegals employed by law firms appear to be the hardest hit of these groups. Most of those who responded saying that they had seen redundancies in their workplace were from bigger law firms, although this still only amounts to a third of respondents in this type of employment. But even in this group there are differences. For example, some respondents from the offshore sector felt very confident about the state of the profession and forecast for the future.

In their own practice

Paralegals in their own practice saw some specific areas affected by COVID regulations. For example, paralegals working with Legal Aid solicitors have been adversely affected. The current restrictions have led to a backlog of court cases, meaning some have seen delayed payment from law firms for their services. Similarly, those working as police station accredited representatives report that the social distancing laws make their job harder, since it is one of the few roles that can't be performed remotely.

However, it seems as though most freelancers have been relatively sheltered from the impact of COVID-19 compared to their counterparts employed in law firms. Respondents involved in corporate law, international law and translation reportedly felt almost unaffected by the pandemic. Some specialist paralegals, such as those involved in debt recovery have seen a surge in demand. This sort of work; gathering evidence for possession proceedings and injunction applications, is typically the reserve of paralegals. 

When paralegals who run their own practice were asked whether they had seen a decline in business, just over half said no. Considering the state of the economy generally, this is less than we expected. Like the country as a whole, paralegals have been unevenly affected by the national lockdown.

Thoughts on the future

Turning to thoughts for the future, the consensus seems to be that paralegals expect the sector to take at least a year to recover from the effect of COVID-19. However, despite the perceived tough times yet to come, the majority of respondents thought that there would be no long-term negative impacts on the paralegal profession as a whole.

In conclusion

The range of results from our survey reflect the diversity of the paralegal profession itself. Whether you're a student, employee, freelancer or business owner, you will have felt the effect of the pandemic differently. Overall, it seems as though most have weathered this lockdown relatively well so far, with a few green shoots in the form of debt and property collection looking likely to grow even further in the coming months. It's clear that the role of the paralegal is so vital to the UK legal system, from police station representatives to international law, that the future looks tentatively promising. We wish you all the best in the current situation.