From education to employment

Do your students want a career in law? Qualifying as a Paralegal may be their best option

Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive, NALP

You’ve got to feel sorry for today’s young folk: they missed out on the golden age of TV lawyers. Sure, they’ve got the show with Ygritte from Game of Thrones, and the one with the cast that tipped up at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, but they know nothing of LA Law or The Practice. They probably don’t even know Captain Kirk became Denny Crane.

But for those finding inspiration to join the legal profession in the fleeting court appearances of Nelson and Murdock in Daredevil, there’s a good chance that there’s some disappointment coming up.

Firstly, qualifying as a solicitor or barrister is time consuming. And it’s tremendously costly: £27000 to gain a law degree; another £15000 for graduates to complete professional examinations (Legal Practice course [LPC] for solicitors, or Bar Professional Training Course [BPTC] for barristers).

Those costs present a daunting barrier, not just for anyone Franklin & Bash misled into believing surfing and quipping were key legal skills, but even for those who trawled YouTube for the dusty realism of episodes of Crown Court.

And when a passion for the law sees students surmount the financial challenges of pursuing a legal career, that career path may well end abruptly, as the next stage is to obtain a training contract or a pupillage, and these are in very short supply.

Something in the region of 9000 graduates compete for approximately 5000 training contracts each year; about 1000 compete for around 500 pupillages. There are simply not enough training contracts and pupillages to go around. That results in a growing number of thwarted would-be lawyers.

So, what do these disappointed graduates do? They find work as paralegals.

A Paralegal is not a Solicitor. However, paralegals are trained, educated and qualified in law.

Provided that a paralegal practitioner does not imply in any way that they are solicitors, they can offer advice and assistance to anyone requiring legal assistance. This is a viable permanent career pathway option; one that makes available access to justice at a reasonable cost that fulfils the statutory guidelines and objectives of The Legal Services Act 2007. Encouraging students in further education to make their goal qualifying as a paralegal from day one can save time, heartache and money!

Here’s why.

Firstly, it’s not as costly to gain paralegal qualifications. Ofqual awarding organisation, NALP (through its training arm, NALP Training) is the only paralegal organisation offering nationally recognised and regulated bespoke paralegal qualifications. The cost? Under £2000.

Secondly, in a similar way to solicitors, paralegals can now operate as independent professional practitioners. For example, after applying for a Licence to Practise from NALP, they can operate from a high street office and have other paralegal partners to develop their own paralegal firm, if they’ve been vetted (as to their experience and/or qualifications) and have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) in place.

Some legal activities are reserved and remain exclusive to solicitors. These include, Conveyancing and Immigration work (these areas are regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers [CLC] and the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner [OISC] respectively), and rights of audience (the ability to represent a client in all courts), although paralegals are permitted to represent clients in the Small Claims Court (part of the county court) and in most Tribunals.

With legal aid effectively being eradicated (for all but the most urgent cases), many people needing to attend court (to bring an action or to defend themselves) struggle to pay solicitors’ and/or barristers’ fees, which, even for the seemingly simplest of matters, can be upwards of £200 – £500 per hour.

Absence of legal aid has resulted in many people representing themselves in court—not often the best place for DIY—where they’re referred to as Litigants in Person (LIPs). Lay people are often at a disadvantage in these situations, and this puts a strain on the court system because many judges are halting proceedings to pass on advice to LIPs. The result of this? Massive delays in scheduling cases. Cases that once took ten minutes can now take up to (or exceed) two hours.

With paralegal practitioners now filling the legal aid void, charging significantly less for equivalent services offered by solicitors (paralegals may only charge £30 – £80 per hour), a great deal of the future of the legal services sector lies in the capable hands of the paralegal profession.

And if you want a little extra inspiration/encouragement to take this route from television, Meghan Markle played a paralegal in Suits. But it’s important to stress, there’s no guarantee you’ll marry a prince.

Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive, NALP

About NALP: A non-profit Membership Body NALP is 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. 

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