If you’ve got a legal problem you immediately think you need to speak to a solicitor, yes?
Well that may not be the best course of action. It may be that a Paralegal is the ideal solution to your problem. What is a paralegal? What’s the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, why does it make sense to use one?
A Paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and provide other legal assistance and advice but is not a qualified solicitor. However, paralegals can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do except activities that are “reserved activities” (which we’ll cover later).
Provided that you use a qualified and experienced paralegal who is a member of a professional body such as the Institute of Paralegals (IOP) or of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) there is no reason why the service you receive should be anything less than the service you would receive from a solicitor. You can check a paralegal’s professional standing by searching the Professional Paralegal Register.
The Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) is a voluntary registration scheme to promote professional paralegals as a recognised fourth arm of the legal profession and to enhance consumer choice and protection.
Employers and consumers can be assured that those individuals on the register meet the required standards of both the individual’s recognised membership body and the robust criteria set by the PPR. Consumers have the opportunity to raise concerns/complaints to the PPR should the recognised membership body fail to settle a complaint to their satisfaction. The PPR has a range of sanctions available including the ability to award compensation in certain circumstances.
Professional Paralegals who are on the Register and who hold a Paralegal Practising Certificate (PPC) are fully regulated to offer legal services to consumers.
So when should you use the services of a paralegal instead of a solicitor?
• 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 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
• If you need to make an application to the Court of Protection
• 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 £300 or more per hour. At Atheneys, we charge a fixed fee on many of our services. Where we do charge an hourly rate it’s just £60 per hour.
• 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 direct access Barrister. For example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court where expert advocacy is requiered. Even if you have employed a Solicitor, they offten instruct a Barrister for court hearings. However, for the most part, a paralegal can assist you in dealing with the case yourself.
• Anyone offering legal services outside of solicitors firms in the unregulated market are paralegals. The PPR for the first time has clearly categorised paralegals into four tiers to make it easy for you to find a suitably qualified paralegal. If you use Paralegals on a self-employed or freelance basis, they will be regulated by the PPR.
A Tier 1 Paralegal
Typically they will be a trainee Paralegal who is studying to achieve a level 3 qualification (equivalent to A Level) and has no or very little work experience. A Tier 1 may be engaged in legal secretarial work; legal administration or general legal office assistance.
A Tier 2 Paralegal
Will be a Paralegal who has either obtained a level 3 qualification and/or has a minimum of two years ‘qualifying’ experience. A Paralegal in Tier 2 may have many years of experience in a particular area of practice. Tier 2 Paralegals may also be law graduates that have no or very little relevant work experience. A Tier 2 Paralegal may be offering services to the general public (subject to obtaining a Paralegal Practising Certificate); assist in many legal matters; prepare cases and assist litigants in person amongst many other things.Their area of knowledge, experience and expertise will determine the nature of the service or services that they may offer under a Paralegal Practising Certificate.
A Tier 3 Paralegal
They are a Paralegal that has gained a minimum of a Level 6 qualification (Degree Level) AND has a minimum of 2 years qualifying experience. Typically a Tier 3 Paralegal is a graduate in law or has an equivalent qualification in the area of law in which they practice.
A Tier 3 will typically be fee earners as Paralegals and can carry out complex legal matters.
Their area of knowledge, experience and expertise will determine the nature of the service or services that they may offer under a Paralegal Practising Certificate.
A Tier 4 Paralegal
Typically a Tier 4 Paralegal will have a Level 6 or above qualification, a minimum of 4 years qualifying experience and have undertaken Paralegal Practice Skills. Their area of knowledge, experience and expertise will determine the nature of the service or services that they may offer under a Paralegal Practising Certificate.
So what is a Professional Paralegal Practitioner?
A Professional Paralegal Practitioner is a Paralegal at Tier 2 or above who is holding a Paralegal Practising Certificate (PPC). The PPC will specify the area of law that they can practice. Paralegals can be self-employed; offer freelance work or be employed. Only Paralegals on the PPR register are regulated by the PPR.
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.
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’ –give us a call to see how competitive our services are.
How to contact Atheneys
For further assistance please fill out the contact form below and we will get back to you as we can (normally within 24 hours).