We’re joined again by Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP). Today, Amanda provides some useful advice on paralegal training and how far you might wish to take it.
It’s true to say that there is no statutory regulation for the paralegal profession and therefore no law that states you must be trained to be a paralegal in any particular way, or even at all!
Indeed, many describe themselves as ‘paralegals’ without any training or qualifications. However, as the profession gains traction because of the demand from consumers, it’s vital to distinguish yourself from the crowd in order to give both yourself, and your clients, confidence that you are competent to perform your duties and that you have the legal knowledge. It’s also a good step to join a professional membership body such as NALP which is highly regarded within the legal sector because of its strict due diligence processes on all potential new members.
NALP also offers paralegal training and recognised qualifications from level 3 (A Level) to Level 7 (postgraduate).
How far should you go with your training?
The answer to this question very much depends on what you wish to do as a paralegal. Some believe that paralegals are simply law graduates who ultimately wish to become solicitors and therefore only work for solicitors. This is not the case. Paralegals work in a variety of organisations both in the public and private sectors. In fact, most organisations, be it the NHS or Premiership football clubs have elements of legality to what they do and require persons with legal knowledge to undertake these tasks. These persons are paralegals!
More importantly, there is now a demand from consumers to gain access to justice at a reasonable cost because they cannot afford the fees of solicitors and barristers as there is no longer any legal funding (legal aid) for common cases such as debts. For this reason, Paralegals can now gain a NALP Licence to Practise to be able to offer advice and assistance to their own clients. This is subject to strict eligibility criteria such as providing evidence of qualifications and experience and professional indemnity insurance (PII).
So the question you need to ask yourself is how far do I want to take this?
If the answer is that you just wish to be employed in an organisation then you have a huge choice and range of potential employers. If you haven’t studied law before then maybe dipping your foot in the water and starting off with a Level 3 Award would be the correct point at which to find out whether this is for you or not. There is then the possibility of progressing your knowledge from that point to complete a Level 3 Certificate and then a Diploma.
Having knowledge of law, legal practice and procedure will always stand you in good stead and goes a long way to add to your credentials as well as looking good on your CV.
Even Law graduates are not necessarily competent to perform paralegal work. The reason is that a law degree is all about learning academic law, and that is why is a graduate wishes to go on to be a solicitor, they need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which is all about practice and procedure. NALP offers a Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice which is an alternative for graduates if they wish to become professional paralegals.
However, if gaining a qualification is not your thing, then why not take a practical skills course through National Paralegal College (NPC). This short online course will provide you with tips and knowledge to give you confidence so that you can offer your services to solicitors and barristers doing freelance work around the courts. Being a freelance means that you are self-employed, work the hours that you want, and set your own hourly rate. Guidelines are given about this on the course, which not only has course material, but also study notes and online tutorials.
NPC also offers courses in legal skills such as Drafting and Negotiating. These are again short courses and will be useful to provide you with universally transferrable skills in whatever career you are involved.
So, even though you may feel that training is unnecessary, knowledge of the law and legal procedures will go a long way to promote that confidence factor for you and any potential employer or client. Without it, you may fall behind the competition and there is a massive plethora of competition out there, so be warned!
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.