More and more small businesses are turning to Paralegals to help with a variety of legal issues.
Most Paralegals offer a great service, at a fraction of the cost of a solicitor or barrister, but it is still worth checking that you are using a registered practitioner:
- If they do not work for a solicitor or barrister, then you should ensure that they are a member of a professional body such as NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals) or registered with the PPR (Professional Paralegal Register).
- They should have either a NALP Licence to Practise or a PPR Practising Certificate, and should have professional indemnity insurance (PII).
- Ensure that the activity you need help with is something that a Paralegal is allowed to deal with. Essentially, Paralegals can do almost everything a solicitor can do.
However, there are a few exceptions, known as ‘reserved activities’ i.e. activities that remain the monopoly of solicitors:
For example, to buy or sell property, an individual must be a solicitor or Licensed Conveyancer (licensed through the Council for Licensed Conveyancers), otherwise they cannot perform a conveyancing transaction on your behalf.
A Paralegal cannot apply for a Grant of Probate on behalf of an Executor of a Will, although they can advise the Executor her/himself how to go about it.
Paralegals do not have an automatic right to appear in all courts on behalf of a client, although they can represent a client at most Tribunals and before a District Judge in small civil claims in the County Court. However, most higher Courts will, at the discretion of the Judge, and with prior notice of representation being given, accept a Paralegal to represent a litigant, provided the Judge is of the opinion that the Paralegal is competent to do so.
In the unlikely event that things don’t go as planned and you need to make a complaint about a Paralegal, here’s how:
If you are making a complaint about a Paralegal who is employed:
- Communicate your concerns to the Paralegal to give him/her a chance to put things right. If you get no joy from this, then if the Paralegal is employed,
- contact the employer clearly stating your complaints to give them a chance to sort it out. If, however, you are still not satisfied,
- you can take the matter further by contacting the Legal Ombudsman (Office of Legal Complaints). However, this route only applies to Paralegals who are employed by a regulated professional such as a solicitor or a barrister.
If the Paralegal is working for themselves and has not put things right to your satisfaction and the Paralegal is a member of NALP or another body then you can:
- Communicate your concerns to the Paralegal to give him/her a chance to put things right. If you are not satisfied then:
- Make a complaint in writing and request an investigation to the Paralegal’s Membership Body. The membership body will investigate and then respond within a given time frame. See NALP’s Policy regarding complaints about a member.
NALP has Codes of Conduct and Ethics for members and Guidance to members on Offering Legal Services and Holding Out to which all NALP registered Members have to agree. It is a requirement that all Paralegals offering legal services, must have Professional Indemnity Insurance and either a NALP Licence to Practise, or PPR Practising Certificate. NALP can apply stringent sanctions against any member against whom a complaint has been upheld.
Finally, Paralegals can help with a wide variety of legal issues, and many specialise in specific areas, for example dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants, or chasing debts, and they charge much less than solicitors, so are well worth considering if you have a legal issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.