There are many employees who are fooled by their job titles. An estimated 200,000 plus paralegals work in a variety of fields and for diverse employers, who are unaware that they are paralegals and can apply for membership of a professional body, giving them status.
Identifying a paralegal
This is simple: does the work they do involve any sort of legality? For example, are they involved in drafting or reviewing commercial contracts or employment contracts? Do they do any legal research to assist someone in their department? Are they involved in compliance or regulation ensuring that statutory criteria are adhered to? Are they involved in reviewing documents in relation to childcare proceedings?
This list is not exhaustive, but if the answer to any of these questions is affirmative, then they could be a paralegal.
Generally, there are plenty of people beavering away in-house, in all sorts of organisations in both public and private sectors who are performing legal tasks and who have knowledge of practice and procedure but who are not given the recognition they deserve.
It is clear that many employers may not actually know what a paralegal is, and what they do. And many employees are also not aware that they are actually carrying out skilled paralegal duties.
I recently had to examine a CV of an applicant who was applying for a high-status professional membership category. This level of membership required the applicant to have a minimum of five years’ relevant legal experience.
On his CV he categorised four of those years as being employed as a ‘paralegal’. It wasn’t until I looked closely at the work he had done prior to this, that I realised he had another year of working as a paralegal even though his job description had been ‘secretary’. It was evident from the description he had provided about his daily duties that they were more descriptive of a paralegal role than that of a secretary.
What’s the difference?
Well, if duties included such work as, answering phone calls and emails, opening files and filing documents then it is more likely than not to be a role of a secretary. However, as soon as we get into the realms of ‘legal research’, ‘legal drafting’ and ‘interviewing clients’, then clearly it holds more responsibility. As it requires legal knowledge and skills as well as legal procedure, it can be construed to be more of a paralegal job role than anything else,
There are numerous reasons why this should be important. Firstly, it gives the employee the status that they deserve. In turn, the clients that they may work with may have more confidence in them and their employer. It also gives the employee an opportunity to join a professional membership body such as NALP which is the foremost paralegal membership body in the UK, and that looks good on any CV. Furthermore, from an employer’s perspective, to have NALP recognised ‘paralegals’ working in-house presents a more professional image to customers.
Author: Amanda Hamilton
Amanda Hamilton is ILSPA's and NALP's Patron. The National Association of Licensed Paralegals is 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 around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.