In this article, our partners NALP discuss the difference between solicitors and paralegals, and how paralegals are now undertaking more of the work needed at a fraction of the cost, however, there are six key areas only to be undertaken by a solicitor.
With the withdrawal of legal aid for most cases (save the most urgent), many consumers are unable to pay fees charged by solicitors. And that is where Paralegals can fill a big gap by providing legal services at the fraction of the cost of solicitors. If properly trained, a paralegal can do most things that solicitors can.
That is with the exception of ‘reserved legal activities.
There are six main reserved activities and they are as follows:
- The exercise of a right of audience
This means the right to represent a client in court and to call and examine witnesses. While this remains a prime reserved activity, in practice this is being eroded at the discretion of the Judge in a specific case. The reason is that consumers who cannot afford solicitors or barristers fees are attending court and representing themselves as litigants in person (LIPs).
Judges are having to delay hearings in order to ensure that the LIP is given appropriate advice. If a paralegal comes before the court and the judge is satisfied as to their competency, then that paralegal may be allowed to make presentations before the court on behalf of the LIP.
The conduct of litigation
Again, this is a prime reserved activity. However, a paralegal is able to assist clients in completing and signing the necessary forms and documentation themselves, and to give advice on procedure and how to conduct their own case as a LIP.
Reserved instrument activities
Such as conducting a conveyancing transaction on behalf of a buyer or seller of land or property. This can only be carried out by solicitors or licenced conveyancers
Solicitors are able to apply and sign such applications on behalf of a client executor, but paralegals cannot do so. However, again, a paralegal can guide client executors through the process to enable them to make the application and sign such forms themselves.
This involves independently witnessing and authenticating legal documents and transactions for production overseas, or to confirm the authenticity of copied or signed documents in order to confirm that they are fully compliant with the requirements of a relevant jurisdiction. Only a notary public can perform these activities.
Administration of oaths
The administering (swearing) an oath is solely the monopoly of solicitors. Most (if not all) solicitors are Commissioner of Oaths. An example is when an individual needs to swear an affidavit (a sworn statement) which can then be admitted as sworn testimony in court instead of a witness physically attending and giving evidence under oath in the witness box.
The other thing a Paralegal should never do is what is referred to as ‘holding out’. They must be clear to consumers that they are a paralegal and not a solicitor and, therefore, cannot perform the activities detailed above.
That said, Paralegals still have a large and important role to play in the future of legal services.
Author Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed 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. – Photo by Giammarco on Unsplash