court-gavel

Dreaming of starting your own Paralegal practice? With more and more people seeking the services of Paralegals, now is a good time to get started. So, we asked Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), for some advice on how to set up your own Paralegal practice.

  • Paralegals are not statutorily regulated, so you have been told that it is not necessary to gain any training or qualification to carry out paralegal services.
This is technically true, but in practice, it’s not accurate; remember that you are up against a mountain of competitors who will probably be far more qualified than you.

You will be handling delicate legal matters for your clients, so consider the possible consequences if something were to go wrong. Gaining knowledge of academic Law and practice is essential to give you and your client confidence.

Start by gaining a paralegal or legal qualification and/or getting some paralegal training and then, as much experience as possible. This does not have to be with a solicitor or barrister; you can gain the relevant legal experience by working in a variety of different employment environments: local authorities, national health service, charities, housing associations, HMRC, Crown Prosecution Service and company in-house legal departments.

  • Once you have gained some knowledge of law and legal procedure and have three or more years’ relevant legal experience, you need to decide whether you wish to specialise in one area of law or be a general practitioner.
For example, you may have worked in a human resource department of a company and have studied Employment Law – this then may well be the area of law in which you wish to practise.
  • Clients need to have confidence that you are qualified and competent to offer legal services, therefore consider joining a membership body such as NALP which has been a Paralegal organization for thirty years and is well established in the legal sector.
Membership of such a body will give your potential client confidence that you know what you are doing. Membership is also confirmation that you have been vetted by the organization and have to abide by its rules, and can be sanctioned if something goes wrong.

Being a member of NALP entitles you, subject to the requisite qualifications and/or experience and fulfillment of eligibility criteria, to apply for a Licence to Practise in the areas of law in which you can provide evidence of experience. Again, this means that NALP has done its due diligence on you and thoroughly vetted you and your credentials.

Eligibility Criteria to gain a Licence to Practise:

  1. Qualifications - a minimum Level 3 qualification and a minimum of three years’ experience
  1. Experience only – can provide evidence of a minimum of five years’ experience
  1. Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII): covering you for the work that you do.
  • Ensure there is no inference in any marketing for your business, whether via a website of Facebook Page, that you are a solicitor or barrister. This is what is known as ‘Holding Out’ and is illegal. In all your marketing you have to make it clear that you are a paralegal and not a solicitor or barrister.
  • There are certain activities you are unable to perform. These are ‘reserved activities’ (as defined by S12 of The Legal Services Act 2007). Ensure you do not undertake such activities, making it clear in any contract for services with your client, what this means, and what these activities are.
Apart from the ‘reserved activities’, you can operate in much the same way as a solicitor, e.g. you can operate as a Paralegal Firm and have partners.
  • Sole practitioner, partnership or company? This is entirely up to you, but whatever you choose it’s important to understand the responsibilities and legal duties of each. For example, submitting company accounts or filing your annual tax return.
Running your own Paralegal practice can be very rewarding – but make sure you follow the advice above to give both your clients and yourself the expertise, confidence and protection that you and they deserve.

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 & Wales). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.

See: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk and http://www.nalptraining.co.uk/nalp_training