In an ever-changing legal landscape, the traditional attitude to legal services has been turned on its head. The main reason behind this is the requirement to comply with the regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007. The prime objective of this statute is to open up the legal services sector, making legal services more accessible and less costly to the consumer.
Three of the statute’s eight specific objectives are improving access to justice, promoting competition and increasing public understanding of legal rights.
With the virtual eradication of legal aid, there is a huge gap. The public will, now more than ever before, need cost-effective and accessible legal advice and assistance. Paralegals are now filling that gap.
The consequences of the Act and the withdrawal of legal aid have caused chaos within the court system. Because of the plethora of litigants in person (LIPs) in court, the courts need to ensure that the LIPs are properly aware of their rights.
At the Civil Justice Council Third National Forum on Access to Justice for LIPs that took place on 21 November last year, it was clear that many more Solicitors, Barristers and Judges are now giving more time to pro bono work (services offered without payment) than ever before. Case studies were given as examples by Judges and Lawyers from all over the country. The profession just cannot sustain this level of pro bono work indefinitely.
Paralegals have been working tirelessly under the radar for many years. Traditionally, they have been regarded as would-be Solicitors or Barristers, but this is definitely not the case today. A vast majority of law undergraduates are now turning their backs on traditional pathways. With a very limited number of training contracts and pupillages available, and with competition being so great, they are looking for different routes.
The bottom line is that we must use these skilled and talented persons to fill the gap that legal aid has left. However, as is commonly known, the government will not sanction further regulation in the legal services sector, meaning that there will not be any statutory regulation for Paralegals. This coupled with the recommendations made by the three regulatory bodies (SRA, Bar Standards Board and Ilex Professional Standards) in the LETR (Legal Education and Training Review) published June 2013, has led the two main Paralegal membership bodies to work together to develop the PPR (Professional Paralegal Register).
Recommendation 23 of the LETR states:
‘Consideration should be given by … representative bodies to the role of voluntary quality schemes in assuring the standards of independent paralegal providers outside the existing scheme of regulation.’
The NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals) and the IoP (Institute of Paralegals) have worked together for 18 months to develop this voluntary register, which was launched in the House of Lords on 4 December 2014, sanctioned by the Legal Ombudsman and Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town (a champion of consumer rights). The register itself is going live at the beginning of April 2015.
The PPR will provide a regulatory function for Paralegals who are not working in law firms. It will define what a Paralegal can do into tiers based on qualifications and/or experience.
This voluntary registered scheme will provide an overarching set of standards for Paralegals and is designed to promote professional paralegals as a recognised fourth arm of the legal profession, enhancing consumer choice and protection.
A Paralegal wishing to be a part of the register will have to be a member of an accredited and recognized membership body already. Thus they will have to adhere to the Codes and Ethics of that body. If a consumer is dissatisfied with the work of the Paralegal, they will have several levels of complaint: firstly, to the individual themselves, then to the membership body and then, if still not resolved, to the PPR (if the individual is registered). The PPR will advertise its complaints procedure on the website. A Complaints Committee will examine the complaint which (if not resolved) will be referred to the Adjudication and Appeals Panel that will be able to make certain orders. The PPR is also in provisional discussions with the Legal Ombudsman to initiate a voluntary scheme.
The register will increase consumer awareness of Paralegals and provide protection to consumers via this rigorous complaints procedure. It will raise standards, increase the diversity of opportunity within the legal sector, and promote an effective way of discouraging poor or unprofessional service to consumers.
From the Paralegal’s viewpoint, it will increase the opportunity to be found by potential employers or the general public, who will be able to search the register for future employees, freelance staff or qualified professionals to assist them.
From the Legal Secretary’s viewpoint, there is now more demand from employers to take on Secretaries who have extra ‘paralegal’ skills. Taking on these skills will enhance your employability and at the end of the day make you eligible to join the PPR.
With the agreement of ILSPA, NALP can now offer membership at a concessionary rate. We can also offer Paralegal Skills Training through AH Paralegal at a special rate.
Please go to the Membership page of the NALP website at
And check out the special ILSPA page on the AH Paralegal website at
AMANDA HAMILTON LLB (HONS), March 2015
Amanda is the Chief Executive of NALP (7 years) and Managing Director of AH Paralegal Training (18 years). She is also Senior Tutor for ILSPA, having taught the Legal Secretaries Diploma course for the past 16 years.