The Paralegal Profession

By Wendy Souter

The title of ‘Paralegal’ was coined in the USA in 1968 and has only become a prominent description to legal assistants in the UK since late 1980s. Paralegals are an unregulated body of legal professionals and as such there is no requirement for a Governing body.  There is no requirement for accreditation for paralegal courses.  There are a number of businesses trying to introduce different 'standards' to this now very popular career of choice which is commendable.

The Paralegal's role is to provide lower operating costs to legal services under the supervision of Solicitors or Barristers. A degree is not necessary.  A Licence is not necessary. Practising Certificates are not necessary.  The Solicitors Act 1974 reserves certain legal activities for Solicitors and Barristers and therefore Paralegals can only perform many of these activities under the supervision of Solicitors or Barristers.  

Some law students will work as Paralegals while continuing their studies to eventually qualify as a Solicitor or a Barrister.  To this end, they will have a law degree.  For others who do not want to become a Solicitor or a Barrister, being a Paralegal is their career of choice.  For this having a law degree is not necessary.  

There are some unregulated areas of law such as debt recovery, undefended divorces and Wills in which paralegals are able to offer independent legal services to members of the public.  This will entail setting up a paralegal services firm or paralegal consultancy, obtaining Professional Indemnity Insurance, registration at HM Revenues and Customs for tax purposes and having the necessary legal expertise required.

Q. “I wish to represent clients in court, which of the paralegal courses should I study?”

A. Some unregulated legal activities such as appearing at Tribunals, County Court Small Claims, Trademark and Patent Agents can be performed by Paralegals, unsupervised.  Paralegals do not have the right of audience in any Court.  Private individuals, known as Litigants in Person, can represent themselves at Tribunals, County Court Small Claims or in other areas.  If someone is not entirely confident, or capable of representing themselves in these environments, they can be assisted by a 'Litigation Friend' or by a 'McKenzie Friend'.  A Litigation Friend or a McKenzie Friend is not able to make any representation to a Court unless specifically authorised by the Court.  They can offer either paid or free advice, guidance or if authorised by the Court, representation.  

There are now several Paralegal Services offering unregulated services to members of the public in areas such as undefended Divorce applications, Road Traffic Accident claims, Debt Recovery and so on. This is perfectly legal and offers further scope for Paralegals to be employed.  Professional Indemnity Insurance is required by these Paralegal Services providers, they must operate both a business Clients Bank Account and a business Office Bank Account in order to act as stakeholders to clients money and they must become registered at HMRC as self employed.

Many such paralegals can voluntarily register themselves as members of a Membership body or on a paralegal register in order to build trust and maintain confidence in the level of services they provide.   Such registers are voluntary.  

Until and if the UK government recognises the Paralegal Profession as an independent legal profession and gives them powers to work in those areas reserved for Solicitors and Barristers, Paralegals will continue to work under supervision, except as mentioned, in those unregulated areas.

There are 2 ways to become Paralegals:

1. Having relevant legal work experience.

2. Completing an appropriate Paralegal Course.

Having your legal work experience recognised is not a route which is open to all. Working within a legal environment requires knowledge of legal procedures and Solicitors do not normally have the time nor the inclination to train someone on the job - this environment is far too busy. They prefer to employ someone who has already the necessary legal expertise.

Selecting an appropriate course is now becoming a minefield. How can you evaluate the most effective type of course to study? As a general rule, courses which cover Procedural Law and lean towards practical skills such as, form filling, research, interviewing, are what solicitors value most. In the UK, a law degree in itself, does not prepare you for the role of a Paralegal. Unless you are aiming to qualify as a Solicitor or Barrister, this is not necessary. Having a law degree will require further legal qualification such as completing a Procedural Law Course or the Law Society's Legal Practice Course. Membership of organisations is optional and should not be confused with qualifying as a Paralegal.

There are now several Training Providers offering paralegal qualifications in addition to private and independent colleges and there should be a course to suit everyone.   All aspects of legal studies can be undertaken eg Immigration, Probate, Commercial Law, Corporate Law, Conveyancing, Litigation, Principles of English Law, Maritime Law, Human Rights, International and European Law and the list goes on. There are also several 'levels' of qualifications being offered by different Training Providers and undertaking a course which gives an Introduction or an Overview is simply to test whether this is a career for you and should not be viewed as acquiring the required level of competency.

•Many businesses self-regulate or operate as ‘institute’ or ‘association’ which could be misinterpreted as having the authority of Accreditation, Governing or Regulatory bodies. In many instances, they are Training Providers and are not accreditation, governing nor regulatory bodies. Accreditation, Governing and Regulatory bodies must not themselves deliver training courses or promote their own courses as this will be a Conflict of Interest.

•Legal Secretaries are sometimes referred to as ‘Paralegals’ but in reality, they are not able to be ‘fee earners’ unless they have a Paralegal qualification - Differences Between Legal Secretaries and Paralegals.  

About our Courses.

We have specialised in law courses since 1988 and is one of the oldest training institutions in the UK. We have gained recognition for our training techniques, the quality of our courses and for their relevance in working as a Paralegal or Legal Secretary.

Since our inception in 1988, all our secretary courses have been of a standard which allows students to carry out work as ‘paralegals’ but they do not offer the official title of ‘qualified paralegals’. To gain this title, legal secretaries can upgrade to any of our Paralegal Courses and many have already done so.

As a training college, our main objective is to continue producing high quality law courses for which we have become known since 1988.  All our efforts are focused on training Paralegals and Legal Secretaries. Studying with the Specialist offers many significant benefits:

• Students are given top priority.

• Courses are comprehensive and intensive.

• We are not distracted by offering several type of courses and therefore spend more time innovating and improving.  

Our specialist subjects are General Principles of English Law, Corporate Law, Conveyancing, Litigation, Probate. We offer several modules to qualify as Paralegals and we do not require that all modules are completed at once. Students can complete our module as suits their budget. This has proved very convenient and allows many to begin their legal careers.

Our courses are delivered by online Distance Learning worldwide. This is another step to bring legal qualifications to many and enable them to embark on a legal career which in the past, may have been prohibited.  

The proof of a great course is in its students’ recommendation. Many of our past students have become employed as Paralegals, Legal Secretaries or have progressed to higher education at Universities in the UK.

Read the many Reviews where our students have spontaneously expressed what they think of the courses. 

To all our students, we give our biggest ‘Thank You’ as without them, we would be just another training provider.