court-gavel

What’s the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and when might it make sense to use one? Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals, explains.

A paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal assistance but is not a qualified solicitor. Paralegals can do virtually everything that a solicitor can do except ‘Reserved Activities’ (see later).

There is no statutory regulation for paralegals, so it’s important to ask for evidence of the paralegal’s qualifications and experience, and check they are a member of a professional body such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).

When might you use a paralegal?

  1. If you have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation. Many paralegals are ‘Police Station Accredited’
  2. If someone takes you to court claiming that you owe them money and you need to defend yourself
  3. If you need to take someone to court and need assistance with the process
  4. To assist you with any welfare matter
  5. If you need assistance in a Matrimonial matter
  6. If you wish to take action against your employer through a Tribunal
  7. To assist you in writing a Will or to obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney in respect of a relative
  8. To assist you in a housing matter
The above is not an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most common situations.

Why would you choose a paralegal over a solicitor?

  1. Cost: Solicitors often charge over £200 per hour. On average paralegals charge between £20 - £50 per hour.2
  2. A paralegal may assist you up to a point, and then you may need the services of a solicitor. For example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court. However, for the most part, a paralegal can assist you in dealing with the case yourself.
  3. There is no legal aid: Before April 2013 you could get legal funding to bring a case to court or defend an action against you. This has now been eradicated for all but a few cases. Paralegals are filling the gap left by the eradication of Legal Aid.
There are some activities, known as ‘Reserved Activities’, that paralegals cannot undertake:
  1. Solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts. However, Paralegals can assist and advise you if you do need to represent yourself (as a litigant in person (LIP)) and in some cases, subject to the discretion of the Judge, they can get permission to speak on your behalf
  2. Conveyancing: for example, buying and selling property on your behalf. Paralegals can do this but only if they are Licensed by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers.
  3. When someone dies: if they have left a Will leaving gifts to various beneficiaries such as family and friends, an official document known as a Grant of Probate needs to be attained in order to distribute the gifts in the Will. A Paralegal cannot sign such documents on your behalf but you can do so yourself, and the paralegal can assist you through the process.
  4. Conduct litigation: Paralegals cannot conduct your case and are unable to file documents at court and make applications on your behalf. However, Paralegals can assist you to do this yourself as a LIP.
You can also make use of a number of free services like Citizens Advice, Law Centres and Pro-Bono Units:
  1. Citizens Advice: A charity with franchises across the country. The Bureaux are mostly run by volunteers (many of whom are paralegals).
  2. Law Centres: Largely operated by volunteers (mostly paralegals) usually supervised by a solicitor.
  3. Law clinics: Popular with Universities to give law students an opportunity to work with clients and practise their skills.
  4. Pro-Bono Units: Solicitors and barristers often have units offering free advice to consumers.
If you do need the help of a paralegal where do you look? There are two registers:
  1. The LPR (Licensed Paralegal Register) organised through NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). You can find a paralegal by location, name or area of law.
  2. The PPR (Professional Paralegal Register). Similar to the above in that you can find someone by location, area of law or name.
So, next time you need some legal advice, consider calling a registered paralegal for help in the first instance.

ABOUT THE AUTHORAmanda 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