• Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

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By Amanda Hamilton, Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

As paralegals do much of the same work as solicitors, working as a paralegal practitioner can be a rewarding career option in itself, but spending some time as a paralegal can also be a stepping stone to being a solicitor. If you are working in the legal sector as a paralegal, it can count towards your two years’ qualifying work experience should you wish to go on to do your SQE (Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination).

So, how do you go about transitioning from working as a paralegal to qualifying as a solicitor?

This depends very much on whether or not you have a qualifying law degree or a degree in another discipline (or equivalent, such as an Ofqual Level 6 qualification).

If you do have a qualifying law degree, then there are currently two routes to qualifying as a solicitor. The first is to apply to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which can cost between £12,000 – £17,000 depending on which training provider is offering it. The second is to go through the Solicitors’ Qualifying Route (SQE) which is far less costly. The SQE1 and SQE2 exams cost a total of just under £4,000 but the preparation for these two courses can cost up to £6,000, so approximately £10,000 in total (subject to any possible discounts being offered) It is hoped that the LPC will be replaced eventually by the SQE.

If you have a degree in another discipline, then the routes to qualifying are currently twofold also: firstly, you could apply to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) which is a law conversion course and takes one year to complete. This costs between £7,000 – £13,000 and once completed you go on to do the LPC as above. The alternative is to go straight into the SQE1 and SQE2. Clearly the latter route is far less costly than completing the PGDL and LPC which in total can cost up to £30,000.

The next step is to complete two years’ qualifying experience which can include any time you have had working as a paralegal. The final step is to pass the SRA’s character and suitability test before being admitted on the role of solicitors.

If it is your intention to qualify as a solicitor, then working as a paralegal and gaining qualifying experience is just as essential as completing the SQE itself as it opens up options. So, starting your legal career as a paralegal is a great way to gain experience while earning a living and, if you choose to, it can also be a stepping stone to becoming a solicitor. If you don’t fancy being a solicitor, but you’d still like to work within the law, then choosing a career as a paralegal is a great option.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer not to work within the legal sector, then there are plenty of opportunities in other sectors to use your paralegal skills.

A wide variety of jobs

Most organisations will have an element of legality to what they do and will always have a need for someone with paralegal skills to assist them. For example, a few years’ ago Jimmy Choo Shoes advertised for a NALP qualified paralegal to work in their legal department. The possibilities of gaining a glam job are endless: working with a premiership football club, working with one of the big oil companies, working in retail or car manufacturing companies. The list is endless.

A Profession in its own right

With the virtual eradication of legal aid some ten years’ ago, there is an increasing requirement for consumers to gain access to justice at a reasonable cost. Paralegal practitioners can fill that gap simply because many solicitors will not wish to take on work at the ‘bottom’ end of the scale. Examples would be an individual who requires assistance to collect a ‘small claim’ debt or needs help to complete forms after someone has died, or even needs advice on how to take an individual to court for breaching a contract. These matters are important to a consumer who has no specific knowledge of the law but may not come within the scope of the kind of cases that a solicitor will want to assist with nor in which they can afford to involve themselves.

Working as a paralegal practitioner is now considered to be a profession in its own right, carrying out work that used to be completed by solicitors before 2013. Without professional paralegals stepping in, most consumers would have to resort to free advice and assistance offered by solicitors/barristers offering ‘pro-bono’ work (offering services for free) or organisations such as Citizens’ Advice and others. Alternatively, they could put their hands in their pockets to pay for a solicitor.

A Paralegal Practitioner can offer assistance at approximately one tenth of the fees that a solicitor may charge for the same job. We are talking about the difference between paying £200-£500 per hour (depending on seniority, location in the UK, and nature of the case) which is definitely outside the scope of most consumers, compared with £20-£80 per hour which is what a paralegal may charge.

But there must surely be a downside to working as an independent paralegal practitioner?

The only potential downside is that there are rules relating to what a paralegal can and cannot do. Reserved activities are those that are specified in The Legal Services Act 2007 which can only be practised by authorised individuals such as solicitors or barristers. Paralegals cannot undertake these activities.

So what are the ‘reserved activities’ that paralegals cannot undertake?

There are two main reserved activities which affect paralegals. The first is ‘Conducting litigation’ which is something that only solicitors can do. This means effectively that paralegals cannot act as agents for their clients; paralegals must not issue proceedings, receive or sign documents on behalf of clients,  but they can assist clients to complete forms as long as all documents are signed and served by the clients themselves.

The second is that there is no right of audience, meaning that a paralegal does not have the automatic right to represent a client and address the court on a client’s behalf. Nor can they call or examine witnesses. However, there is nothing preventing a paralegal requesting the judge to grant the right, but this will only be given at the discretion of the judge, which may depend on the circumstances of the case. If not granted, then the paralegal can assist the client to do this themselves.

There are four other reserved activities: conveyancing, probate and notarial activities, and administration of oaths. Any paralegal practitioner should know and understand what these are and how they may possibly restrict their business.

‘Holding out’

Although paralegals do much of the same work as solicitors, it is important they never claim or imply that they are a solicitor. This is called ‘holding out’ and means that a paralegal must never imply that they are anything other than a paralegal practitioner. Even referring to themselves using the term ‘lawyer’ can be misunderstood by a consumer to mean ‘solicitor’ even though it may not be technically wrong to refer to themselves as such.

In conclusion

Working as a paralegal in the legal sector can be a stepping stone to qualification as a solicitor. If this is a path you wish to pursue there are SQE Prep courses that can be taken with an organisation such as BARBRI to help you prepare for both the SQE 1 & 2.

Alternatively, three years of paralegal work will count towards the relevant legal experience required to apply for a NALP Licence to Practise and you can set up on your own as a Professional Paralegal Practitioner (subject to evidence of competency in the areas in which you wish to practise and to gaining professional indemnity insurance). The added bonus is that, as a paralegal you can work in a variety of sectors, not just the legal profession. From local government to fashion, from football to property, from charities to defence – all these sectors are open to you as a paralegal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.

Web: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk

Twitter: @NALP_UK

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NationalAssocationsofLicensedParalegals/

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/national-association-of-licensed-paralegals/

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