A Paralegal is 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. Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or they may work within a legal environment within commerce, industry or the public sector. Paralegals can now offer legal services directly to their own clients provided they have a Licence to Practice through NALP.
Within the legal profession, solicitors have always relied upon their unadmitted support staff and could not operate effectively without them. Paralegals are important members of the legal team, playing key roles in the legal process. The work that Paralegals undertake is quite often virtually indistinguishable from that undertaken by the Solicitors who employ them.
However, Paralegals have, in recent years, taken on a new significance with the virtual eradication of Legal Aid, meaning that Consumers may be unable to afford the fees of solicitors. Consequently, there is an increasing demand for less costly access to justice, and well trained and qualified Paralegals with experience are filling this gap.
The term, or title, 'Paralegal' has caught on within the legal profession and is now used almost exclusively to describe fee earners or part fee earners amongst unadmitted staff in solicitors'firms who are not chartered legal executives. 'Paralegal' and 'Legal Assistant', as titles, are synonymous. Unlike the term 'Chartered Legal Executive' or 'NALP Licsened Paralegal', which are specific titles, the term 'Paralegal' on its own is, as stated, is generic.
I'm a Law Graduate, can I perform Paralegal Work?
Graduating with a Law Degree (the academic side of learning the Law) does not necessarily mean a person is qualified to do paralegal work. Further training is required to gain knowledge of the practical and procedural side of the profession.
For law graduates who have not been able to afford the LPC, or obtain a training contract, an alternative career as a Licensed Paralegal can provide many opportunities, including the possibility of working for yourself as a paralegal practitioner providing you meet the eligibility requirements to gain a NALP Licence to Practise