What is a Paralegal
A Paralegal is a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures and who is not a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive
Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector.
Paralegals may also work for themselves as either freelancers, offering their services to a variety of employers or as Professional Paralegal Practitioners, with a NALP Licence to Practise (subject to the NALP eligibility requirements).
Paralegals are Important Members of the Legal Team
Employers have always relied upon their unadmitted support staff and could not operate effectively without them. Paralegals are important members of any legal team, playing key roles in the legal process. Their duties may involve them working closely with Solicitors and Barristers and may take them from office to courtroom, from clients to conferences, from the law library to the negotiating table.
The work that Paralegals undertake is quite often virtually indistinguishable from that undertaken by the Solicitors who employ them.
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. 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 solicitors or 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.
Working in Other Sectors
Many organisations within commerce and industry need and benefit from employees who have a broad knowledge of law and procedure together with an expertise applicable to their particular sector.
Paralegals can, therefore, be seen working in areas such as Financial Services, Insurance, Banking, Building Societies, the Retail Sector, Credit Control, Export, Entertainment and the Media, etc.
In the Public Sector are Government Departments, Local Authorities, Court and Tribunal Staff, Welfare, the Probation Services, Social Services, the Police and the like. In these areas a Paralegal qualification can be invaluable.