Solicitors are not cheap. If something happens that has an element of legality, many individuals and businesses automatically turn to a solicitor for help. But with hourly fees ranging from £200 to £600, the cost of this help can sting a little, especially if the legal problem is relatively minor. A more cost-effective path leads to the door of a paralegal professional. On average, a paralegal may charge anything between £30 and £80 per hour, depending on the nature of the work.
A paralegal, while not a qualified solicitor, is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks. A paralegal can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do, except for activities that are referred to as reserved activities.
A paralegal can put together an employment contract for you, or a paralegal will be able to assist you if an employee takes legal action against you for any reason. Paralegals also have a right to represent clients in a tribunal. It is likely that if an employment matter escalates, it will be heard in a tribunal.
Drafting commercial business contracts with other businesses or individuals is a skill requiring specialist knowledge, and this is where a paralegal can help, either by drafting such a contract or casting an eye over one that has been sent to you to ensure there is nothing detrimental within it.
For example, a clause expressing that there is a 90-day notice to terminate the agreement, which is a commonly used termination period, may go on to state that notice can only be given prior to the renewal of the contractual term, which may be 12 months. Therefore, if you try to terminate the contract in the thirteenth month, the contract will not come to an end until a further eleven months have passed. This may have financial consequences for which you have not budgeted. A specialist paralegal should be able to spot this on first reading, advise accordingly, and/or suggest an alternative form of word that helps protect you.
These are just two common examples of how using a paralegal can save you money and ensure you get the advice you need without having to pay high solicitor’s fees. There are many other legal matters that a paralegal can also help with.
Of course, there are those limitations imposed on paralegals, the reserved activities. The most common restrictions relate to a “right of audience”, where a paralegal is not permitted to represent a client in all courts apart from the small claims’ court and the tribunal.
The second common limitation is that a paralegal is not permitted to “conduct litigation”, meaning that they cannot sign letters and documents on a client’s behalf or be an agent and be served with official court documents. However, to get around that hurdle, they can draft letters and complete forms for clients, but clients must sign and serve these themselves.
When choosing a paralegal, be sure to engage one that is both sufficiently qualified and, like any professional, appropriately insured. One way to ensure this is to choose a paralegal who has a licence to practise. You can search for paralegals in your area or with the specialisation needed on the National Paralegal Register.
Amanda Hamilton is the patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).