As a paralegal practitioner, offering legal services and assistance to the public in general, it’s important to ensure that you make it very clear on business cards and in respect of your marketing, that you are a paralegal and not a solicitor or barrister. This is because there are certain activities that only solicitors and barristers can do. Also, ‘holding out’ is a criminal offence. This means that you should not hold yourself out either expressly or through implication to be anything other than a paralegal. Even by not mentioning it, an inference can be drawn by the public that you are a solicitor.
If you sign up a new client you should also send them a confirmation letter with a full explanation of what you are able to do for them, as well as what you cannot do. A further mention should be made again in such a letter, that you are a paralegal and not a solicitor or barrister.
Ensuring that your new client is very much aware of your status, and by getting them to sign a copy of the confirmation letter, you will be protecting yourself from a potential criminal action against you as a worst-case scenario, and at best, will prevent any misunderstandings about what role you can play in assisting your client.
It is also best to have a professional membership body behind you, such as NALP, because not only can that body offer you advice and support, but it will also give confidence to any potential client that there is a recognised body to turn to if matters cannot be resolved by you.
Here is a sample letter taken from the website of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals:
Name/address/contact details of Paralegal:
I am writing this letter to explain my status in offering to provide you with legal services. Although I am a qualified Paralegal, I am not entitled to practise in the same way as a solicitor or barrister. Therefore, in providing any legal services to you I am not acting as a solicitor or barrister and I am not subject to many of the rules which regulate practicing solicitors or barristers. This limits the services I can provide to you.
I can provide you with legal assistance (as a Litigation Friend) and represent you before certain Tribunals and in the Small Claims Court, but I cannot exercise rights of audience in Court, meaning that I have no automatic right to represent you in any open court without the express permission of the court. However, I am able to assist you and guide you through the court process and help you to complete court documents.
I aim to provide you with a good service but if you have any concerns about what I do for you, please let me know and I will try to resolve the problem. You should be aware that you would have only limited rights to complain about me to anyone else.
The Legal Ombudsman, which can adjudicate on complaints about poor service by practising barristers and solicitors, cannot consider any complaint against me, because I am a paralegal and therefore, this is beyond their remit.
However, if I cannot resolve your concerns to your satisfaction, you can complain to NALP, my Professional Membership Body, and it will investigate whether I have failed to comply with any of the rules which apply to me. If NALP finds that the complaint against me is justified, it can sanction me and ultimately, can suspend my membership and withdraw my details from the National Paralegal Register.
For your information, I am covered by professional indemnity insurance.
In order to confirm that you have read the above and understand the content of this letter, please sign and date and return this to me for my records.
I confirm that I have received the above statement from (name of Paralegal goes here)
Signed: (name of client) Date:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its training arm, NALP Training, trading as National Paralegal College, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.