Amanda Hamilton from National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) updates us on the paralegal world in light of COVID-19.
As we continue to go through the most unprecedented time, in which families, individuals and businesses are trying to survive extreme difficulties, how are paralegals coping, and what can they do to relieve some of the pressures facing us?
As with all other individuals who are trying to survive, how paralegals cope, very much depends on whether they are full time employed, contractors or self-employed.
If an individual, working as a paralegal, is employed full time within a law firm, then s/he will be affected in the same manner as other employees of that business. So this means that if they’re working from home, they will continue to do so. On the other hand they may be furloughed and thus may not be working but instead are on 80% salary until further notice.
However, a paralegal contractor will continue to work from home until, and if, the employer decides to terminate his/her contract. Termination notice will depend solely on the contract the individual has with the business. Notice could be a day, a week or a month, so, if this applies to you, it’s best to check your contract to be sure where you stand.
Independent self-employed Licenced Paralegals are finding themselves in an unprecedented situation where their skills and assistance are increasingly in demand helping individuals and businesses through these difficult times. Financially, when money is tight, a paralegal can help, offering access to justice at a reduced cost with certain legal matters arising, such as breaches of contract, debt collections and other COVID-19 issues that may come to light.
As courts and tribunal hearings have continued during the lockdown, albeit at a reduced service, the role that paralegals have played so far, which is continuing, cannot be underestimated. Since Paralegal Practitioners offer advice and assistance similar to that of solicitors (although clearly they cannot perform ‘reserved activities’ which remain the monopoly of solicitors) they are the go-to legal service providers for people that cannot afford the fees of solicitors and barristers.
The feedback that is being filtered through from a number of highly experienced NALP Licenced Paralegals, is that they have never been so busy. The plain fact is, that despite – or even because of – Covid-19, there is an increasing number of legal matters to be resolved from breaches of contract to divorces, from unfair dismissals to rent and rates disputes, from child-care issues to mortgage repayments. All such matters require an element of skill and knowledge, not only of the law, but also of legal procedure.
I recently heard from one highly qualified and experienced Paralegal Practitioner contractor who had worked in-house for a top twenty law firm for over five years, that his employer terminated his contract giving him 24 hours-notice as per his contract. He had foreseen that this may occur and decided, while working from home, that it may be prudent to start up another business which was relevant to Covid-19. He has done so and it is looking good for him. However, he also has other clients that he does work for as a paralegal practitioner.
Other Licenced Paralegals are giving feedback that, since many consumers are turning to them for assistance, they are giving notice to the courts for permission to represent their clients. This is called a ‘right of audience’ and is a ‘reserved activity’. However, usually at the discretion of the Judge in any particular case, the Court can allow this. For some reason, even during these difficult times, Judges are not permitting this, which puts such clients at a massive disadvantage.
In summing up, my message to all paralegals, is to check the status you have with your employer and pre-empt certain possibilities. For example, if you are a highly experienced employed paralegal or contractor, who may be in danger of losing your job, why not think about gaining a NALP Licence in order to work as a self-employed practitioner which will enable you to work directly with consumers?
My message to the Courts and to individual Judges is this: if you recognise that a paralegal is competent to do so, please allow them to represent their clients and grant them rights of audience. This will not only reduce the hearing time, but will ensure that consumers are able to be legally represented as is their right, especially if they are unable, during this difficult time, to financially afford the fees of solicitors or barristers.
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 Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.