Paralegals and Solicitors, what is the difference?
Got a legal issue – call a solicitor, yes? Not necessarily. It may be that a paralegal is what you need. So, what is a paralegal? What’s the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and when might it make sense to use one?
A Paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal assistance but is not a qualified solicitor. However, a Paralegal can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do except activities that are referred to as: ‘Reserved Activities’ (which we’ll cover later).
There is no statutory regulation for paralegals in the same way as there is for solicitors, so it’s important to ask for evidence of the paralegal’s qualifications and experience, and check they are a member of a professional body such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).
So when might you use the services of a paralegal?
- If someone takes you to court claiming that you allegedly owe them money and you need to defend yourself
- If you need to take someone to court and need assistance with regard to the process
- If you have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation. Many paralegals are what is known as ‘Police Station Accredited’ and that means that they can be called out to assist you at a police station
- If you need assistance in a Matrimonial matter
- If you wish to take action against your employer through a Tribunal
- To assist you in writing a Will or to obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney in respect of a relative
- To assist you in a housing matter
- To assist you with any welfare matter
The above is not a definitive list of circumstances as there is a broad spectrum of legal areas in which Paralegals operate, however it covers some of the most common situations.
As all of the above can also be handled by a solicitor – why would you choose to use a paralegal?
- Cost: Utilising the services of solicitors can be expensive. Solicitors charge on average over £200 per hour and some, more senior ones, will charge nearer to £300 - £500 per hour. On average Paralegals charge between £30 - £80 per hour for their services, depending on what is required.
- Access to Legal Aid has been severely limited: Before April 2013 you could get legal funding to bring a case to court or defend an action against you. This has now been eradicated for all but a few cases. Paralegals are filling the gap left by the eradication of Legal Aid.
- There are occasions where a paralegal may assist you up to a point, and then you may need the services of a solicitor. For example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court. However, for the most part, a paralegal can assist you in dealing with the case yourself.
As you can see there are good reasons to consider using a paralegal rather than a solicitor, but, as mentioned before, a paralegal can’t help in every situation. There are some activities that Paralegals cannot undertake. These are known as ‘Reserved Activities’:
- Solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts. However, Paralegals can assist and advise you if you do need to represent yourself (as a litigant in person (LIP)) and in some cases, subject to the discretion of the Judge, they can get permission to speak on your behalf.
- Conduct litigation: Paralegals cannot conduct your case and are unable to file documents at court and make applications on your behalf. However, Paralegals can assist you to do this yourself as a LIP.
- Conveyancing: For example, buying and selling property on your behalf. Paralegals cannot undergo such a transaction on your behalf although they can give advice about the process. Only persons who are Licensed by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers are authorised to act on your behalf in a sale and purchase of property.
- When someone dies: if they have left a Will leaving gifts to various beneficiaries such as family and friends, an official document known as a Grant of Probate needs to be attained in order to distribute the gifts in the Will. A Paralegal cannot sign such documents on your behalf but you can do so yourself, and the paralegal can assist you through the process.
What other low-cost and free options are available to you if you need legal help? You can make use of a number of free services like Citizens Advice, Law Centres and Pro-Bono Units:
- Citizens Advice is a charity run organisation with franchises all over the country. The Bureaux are headed up mostly by volunteers (many of whom are paralegals) with a minority of paid workers. The Bureaux are overworked and understaffed.
- Law Centres These are largely operated by volunteers (mostly paralegals) usually supervised by a solicitor. They are not as widely located as Citizens Advice.
- Law Clinics are now becoming popular with Universities in order to give their undergraduate law students an opportunity to work with clients and practice their skills. However, Law Clinics are not found everywhere and are usually only locally located near Universities.
- Pro-Bono Units: both solicitors and barristers have their own units offering free advice to consumers. However, these units are increasingly over utilized and as a result, there is pressure placed upon the respective professions to increase the amount of time dedicated to ‘pro-bono’ work.
If you do need the help of a paralegal where do you look? There is a Paralegal Register:
- The NPR (National Paralegal Register) organised through NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). You can find a paralegal by location, name or area of law.
Paralegals can perform many of the tasks where you’d naturally think of using a solicitor – but they are considerably cheaper. And you can still bring in a solicitor later if you need to. So next time you need some legal advice, as long as it doesn’t come under on the ‘Reserved Activities’ – call a NALP registered paralegal for help in the first instance.