At some point, every business will need legal assistance. However, the cost of using a solicitor can be tough on budgets. Solicitors charge fees of anywhere between £150 per hour to £600 (plus) per hour. But it is not the case that all legal problems need a solicitor. Some can be handled, from start to finish, just as well by a paralegal – and they will cost you much less.
Paralegal practitioners are becoming an increasingly important part of the legal sector. Still, there are limits to the work they can carry out for clients (there are areas that are out of bounds to a paralegal – these are ‘reserved activities’ for solicitors and barristers and are defined by The Legal Services Act 2007), and paralegals must be careful that they never stray into what is known as Holding Out.
These are the activities that remain the monopoly of solicitors
- Exercise of a right of the audience
- Conduct of litigation
- Reserved instrument activities
- Probate activities
- Notarial activities
- Administration of oaths
What is “holding out”?
This is when a paralegal gives an impression, either by inference or omission or expressly, that they are anything other than a paralegal. Such an impression can be made verbally or written on a business card or a website. They must clarify to prospective clients that they are paralegals rather than solicitors or barristers.
The recommendation is that any ‘confirmation of instruction letter’ sent to a potential client expressly states this and clarifies what a paralegal can and cannot do for their client in layman’s terms.
Not many people realise that ‘Holding Out’ to be a solicitor when you are not on the Roll of solicitors may constitute a criminal offence and that the Solicitors Regulation Authority could prosecute.
Transparency and clarity with clients
A paralegal’s professionalism is vital from the first contact with a potential client to the last. Taking fees up front is not permitted. Paralegals should only invoice for work completed once the fees have been discussed and agreed upon.
Managing a client’s expectations is also vital. This may sometimes be difficult, especially if a client is expecting a speedy or certain outcome that has not come to fruition. However, it is always best for paralegals to confront these difficulties head-on and endeavour to manage the client’s expectations from the start.
Membership in a professional body
To have an affiliation with a professional paralegal membership body (such as NALP) can be very reassuring for a client. Such bodies will have a code of conduct to which a member must adhere or suffer certain possible consequences. Knowing that a paralegal has been rigorously checked before membership is granted boosts the paralegal’s standing.
It is also recommended that to offer legal services to a potential client, a paralegal should not only be a member of such an organisation but also attain a ‘Licence to Practise’. This involves the member providing evidence of qualifications and/or experience in their specialised area of expertise. Professional indemnity insurance (PII) must be attained before a licence is granted.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
It is common knowledge that “The Law” changes rapidly (in some areas more than others). So it is a requirement of senior members and those with a Licence to Practise to provide evidence of 12 hours CPD per year to renew their licence. This indicates to a potential client that there is a measure of commitment and passion for a paralegal practitioner’s work.
There are many online CPD-accredited courses, but even reading up about new precedent cases can go towards the 12-hour CPD required.
Paralegals can be extremely useful to businesses, especially during these tougher times. However, it is vitally important that paralegals and their clients understand what they can and cannot do and that paralegals are always transparent and communicate clearly with their clients.
Getting the Ofqual recognised qualifications, joining a respected membership body like NALP, and, if appropriate, applying for a Licence to Practise are all ways to show that paralegals are knowledgeable and professional and will provide a great service.
Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).