What Paralegals can do for Private Client Work
Paralegals are defined as ‘persons who are trained and educated to perform legal tasks, but who are not qualified solicitors, barristers or chartered legal executives’.
These well trained and somewhat overlooked legal practitioners should be relied upon more and more within private practice, given the current economic climate within the legal sector. It is hard enough for a small practice to survive with the costs involved in maintaining membership and regulation as well as paying out for the increasingly high maintenance of operating from premises.
If you are part of a forward-thinking solicitors’ practice, and your Paralegal staff sign-up to a professional membership body like the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), they have access to training and can gain formal qualifications, adding value to your firm and its reputation.
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NALP has been a membership body for Paralegals for over 30 years and is also an accredited Paralegal Qualifications provider regulated by The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) the non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England.
Formally recognising the Paralegals within your firm can encourage clients by giving them comfort that they are being dealt with by a recognised professional even if they are not seeing a Solicitor.
Most Paralegals specialise in one or two areas of law. In the old days, when we used to have ‘managing clerks’, these individuals were so knowledgeable in their designated areas of practice, that quite often the senior partners would be in awe of them but would nevertheless turn to them for advice and assistance!
In an old established firm that this writer worked for in the early 1980’s, a managing clerk had been with the firm for over 40 years, man and boy. There was absolutely nothing he did not know about Wills, Probate and Land Law and Conveyancing. The problem was that everyone was afraid of him because he was so knowledgeable, and consequently he made the rest of the employees (including senior partners) look and feel mediocre by comparison. This individual was, for most of his working life, unrecognised, and regarded as unimportant, although he was a tremendous asset to the firm.
Of course, we have come a long way since then and we now refer to these individuals as Paralegals. Paralegals should be the backbone of every private practice.
They are no longer just graduates who cannot find training contracts or ‘would be’ solicitors. Some may wish to be given that opportunity of course, but for the most part, the Paralegal Profession is a genuine career path option for many who may not be given the chance to go to University, or who wish to change careers at a later stage in life.
Attracting and retaining top talent is always a challenge – but by offering formal recognition for your Paralegal staff, and perhaps allowing them days off for training, you can attract better applicants and retain your best people.
People like to be recognised and rewarded for the work they do – this is one way to achieve that. On the flip-side, ignoring the status and contribution of your ‘non-qualified solicitor staff’ may lead to a talent exodus as staff look for fulfilment elsewhere – perhaps by setting up their own independent paralegal practice in competition. It is, therefore, in the solicitors’ best interests to properly recognize the value of their paralegal staff and their status.
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