1000s of people are working as Paralegals without realising it. How to find out if you are one of them – and what you should do. By Amanda Hamilton, NALP
Many people are working within a company performing certain tasks day in, day out, not realizing that what they are doing may class them as a ‘Paralegal’.
Why should this matter? Why should you be ‘pigeon-holed’?
In this current climate giving yourself a lift up the ladder can help your career and certainly your status within an organization.
There are an estimated 200,000 plus Paralegals working in a variety of fields and for diverse employers, who are unaware that they are ‘Paralegals’ and can apply for membership of a professional body, giving them status.
Are you one of them?
If you answer the following questions with a yes, then it looks like you are a Paralegal and should be accredited as such:
Do you work for an organization that has you performing a task which has a legal content to it? For example, checking a contract, or working in a housing department of a local authority and being responsible for ensuring that letters are sent out to non-rent payers and/or taking them to court.
Have you ever been given in-house training that includes an element of law or legal knowledge? For example, working in an in-house human resources department and bee given training in employment law.
If so, then you are a most definitely a Paralegal.
Paralegals are not just people who have studied law. Being trained to perform certain tasks, like drafting contracts, is important for many companies. They may not necessarily wish to use the services of a solicitor each time they require such a contract because, economically, it may not be viable. Thus, many will revert to training individuals (non-lawyers) and employ them specifically for the task.
Paralegals are defined as ‘persons who are trained and educated to perform certain legal tasks, but who are not qualified solicitors, barristers or chartered legal executives’. Is that you?
In this current legal climate which has changed so dramatically over the past few years, Paralegals have taken on a new significance in the roles they perform. Some do work for solicitors, others for barristers and in-house legal departments, but more and more, Paralegals are working for themselves.
How come? Because they are filling a gap that has been left by the eradication of legal aid. This was means tested funding that used to be available (until April 2013) for anyone who had the necessity to go to court, either to bring an action against someone, or to defend themselves.
Solicitors’ and barristers’ fees have always been quite hefty, and so now, by default, many people are forced either to represent themselves in court or alternatively, use the services of Paralegals, who charge far less than solicitors, to guide them through the processes.
Although this situation may not assist you if you are working in-house, being recognized as a ‘Paralegal’ and being part of a professional membership body can thrust you towards a more positive career pathway.
If you did wish to gain training as a Paralegal, there are bespoke nationally recognized qualifications to help you hone your skills and knowledge and push forward. This could even assist you in gaining promotion at work.
So what is it that paralegals can do?
The answer to this question is, virtually everything that a solicitor can do!
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
However, there are certain activities that designated ‘reserved activities’ and these remain the monopoly of solicitors. For example: automatically having the right to represent someone in all courts, the conveyancing process (i.e. buying and selling property) and some probate activities (i.e. sorting out a person’s estate (assets) after they die).
Apart from this, there is plenty of scope for a Paralegal, not only to advise and assist a consumer, but also to gain a Licence to Practise in order to do so.
Has this tickled your fancy?
If joining a professional body or gaining paralegal qualifications interests you, or you want to find out more, NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals) can provide more information.
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 & Wales). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.