What is a paralegal and when should you use one?
If you have a legal issue, you don't always have to go to a solicitor. It may be that a paralegal is what you need. So, what is a paralegal? What’s the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and when might it make sense to use one?
A Paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal assistance but is not a qualified solicitor. However, Paralegals can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do except activities that are referred to as: ‘Reserved Activities’ (which is covered later).
There is no statutory regulation for paralegals in the same was as there is for solicitors, so it’s important to ask for evidence of the paralegal’s qualifications and experience, and check they are a member of a professional body such as the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP).
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
The above is not a definitive list of circumstances as there is a broad spectrum of legal areas in which Paralegals operate, however it covers some of the most common situations.
As all of the above can also be handled by a solicitor – why would you choose to use a paralegal?
- Cost: Utilising the services of solicitors can be expensive. Solicitors charge on average over £200 per hour and some, more senior ones, will charge nearer to £300 per hour. On average Paralegals charge between £20 - £50 per hour for their services.
- There is no legal aid anymore: Before April 2013 you could get legal funding to bring a case to court or defend an action against you. This has now been eradicated for all but a few cases. Paralegals are filling the gap left by the eradication of Legal Aid.
- There are occasions where a paralegal may assist you up to a point, and then you may need the services of a solicitor. For example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court. However, for the most part, a paralegal can assist you in dealing with the case yourself
As you can see there are good reasons to consider using a paralegal rather than a solicitor, but, as mentioned before, a paralegal can’t help in every situation. There are some activities that Paralegals cannot undertake. These are known as ‘Reserved Activities’:
- Solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts - paralegals do not. However, Paralegals can assist and advise you if you do need to represent yourself (as a litigant in person (LIP)) and in some cases, subject to the discretion of the Judge, they can get permission to speak on your behalf.
- Conduct litigation: this means having the conduct of your case and be able to file documents at court and make applications on your behalf. Once again, Paralegals can assist you to do this yourself as a LIP.
- Practise Conveyancing : for example, buying and selling property on your behalf. Paralegals can do this but only if they are Licenced by the Council of Licenced Conveyancers.
- When someone dies: if they have left a Will leaving gifts to various beneficiaries such as family and friends, an official document known as a Grant of Probate needs to be attained in order to distribute the gifts in the Will. A Paralegal cannot sign such documents on your behalf but you can do so yourself, and the paralegal can assist you through the process.
If you do need the help of a paralegal where do you look?
The NPR (National Paralegal Register) organised through NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals). You can find a paralegal by location, name or area of law.
What if you want to check that a Paralegal is a member of NALP?
You can search for the name, or alternatively by location or legal expertise.
What do you do if you are not satisfied with the Paralegal and wish to make a complaint?
Firstly, you should ensure that you go back to the paralegal and voice your concerns in order to give the paralegal the chance to put it right. If you are still not satisfied, then you can make a complaint to NALP - the following document will explain the process. Please download the 'Complaint about a NALP Paralegal' document here.