Are you working as a paralegal without realising it?

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Adding an extra qualification or recognized skill can boost your career prospects explains Amanda Hamilton

In the UK alone, there are an estimated 200,000 plus paralegals working in a variety of fields, and for diverse employers, who are unaware that they are paralegals. Are you one of them?

What is a paralegal?

The National Association of Licensed Paralegals defines a paralegal as ‘a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures but who is not a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive.’

  • Do you work for an organization that has you performing a task which has a legal content to it?

For example, checking a contract, being responsible for ensuring that letters are sent out to non-payers and/or taking them to court.

  • Have you ever been given in-house training that includes an element of law or legal knowledge?

For example, working in an in-house human resources department and been given training in employment law.

If you answered the above questions with a yes, then it looks like you are a paralegal and can be accredited as such.

Why should this matter?

In the current economic climate, adding an extra qualification or recognised skill can boost your career, your status within an organization, and can set you apart from other candidates when job hunting.

Paralegals are not just people who have studied law. Being able to perform certain tasks, like drafting contracts, is important for many companies.  Companies may not necessarily wish to use the services of a solicitor each time they require a contract because, economically, it may not be viable. Thus, many will revert to training individuals (non-lawyers) to complete these tasks.

Over the last few years, the legal climate has changed dramatically, and paralegals have taken on a new significance in the roles they perform. Some work for solicitors, others for barristers and in-house legal departments, or within large corporates, but more and more, paralegals are working for themselves.

In the UK, they are filling a gap that has been left by the eradication of legal aid. This was means tested funding that used to be available (until April 2013) for anyone who had the necessity to go to court, either to bring an action against someone, or to defend themselves.  Solicitors’ and barristers’ fees have always been quite substantial, so many people are now forced either to represent themselves in court or alternatively, use the services of paralegals. Paralegals charge lower fees than solicitors and can guide them through the processes.

Although this situation may not assist you if you are working in-house, being recognized as a paralegal, or at least being recognized as having paralegal skills, can thrust you towards a more positive career pathway. Gaining recognized qualifications and being part of a professional membership body can also give you a boost.

What is it that paralegals can do?

The answer to this question is, virtually everything that a solicitor can do!  However, in the UK, there are certain activities that designated ‘reserved activities’ and these remain the monopoly of solicitors. For example: automatically having the right to represent someone in all courts, the conveyancing process (i.e. buying and selling property) and some probate activities (i.e. sorting out a person’s estate (assets) after they die).

Apart from this, there is plenty of scope for a paralegal, not only to advise and assist a consumer, but also to gain a Licence to Practise in order to do so.

What next?

If joining a professional body or gaining paralegal qualifications interests you, or you want to find out more, your local or national association will be able to assist you.

USA

American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE)

National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)

National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) 

Canada

Paralegal Society of Canada

Canadian Association of Paralegals

South Africa

South African Paralegal Association (SAPA)

Scotland

Scottish Paralegal Association

United Kingdom

Institute of Paralegals

Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)

National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

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About Author

Amanda Hamilton

Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of NALP, a non-profit Membership Body as well as being the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England & Wales). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional. See: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk and http://www.nalptraining.co.uk/nalp_training Twitter: @NALP_UK

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