How To Set Up A Sustainable Paralegal Business. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Amanda Hamilton, Patron of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals. Amanda will explore how paralegals can ensure a compliant and sustainable business. In this country, working as an independent paralegal practitioner is permitted, unlike in the US, where a paralegal is not authorised to practise law and can only assist attorneys in research and drafting documents. However, paralegal practitioners in England and Wales must know their restrictions and boundaries to prevent misunderstandings and possible complaints against them.
How To Set Up A Sustainable Paralegal Business
You are unlikely to sit down in front of Netflix (other streaming services are available) and binge an exciting new legal drama featuring a firm of paralegals. This is because, in the USA, a paralegal is not authorised to practise law and can only assist attorneys in research and drafting documents. However, working as an independent paralegal practitioner in the UK is permitted, and there are many paralegal businesses. Still, these must operate with care not to stray beyond certain restrictions and boundaries to prevent misunderstanding and possible complaints against them. Here are some tips to create a happily sustainable business model as a paralegal practitioner.
Paralegals operating their businesses offering advice and assistance to consumers must ensure they do not hold out. This means that they must not, expressly or impliedly, give the impression to consumers that they are solicitors or barristers. Even if nothing is said openly, the inference that a consumer may take is that the person offering them help is a solicitor.
Even being very careful about the terminology you use to describe yourself can be misunderstood. For example, referring to yourself as a ‘lawyer’ is not technically incorrect if you are a qualified paralegal. However, the inference to a consumer will probably be that you are a solicitor because they may not be aware that paralegals are lawyers. So, the only way around this is to expressly describe yourself as a paralegal or ‘paralegal lawyer, which must be stated in all marketing and social media posts.
Reserved Legal Activities
The other factor that will help sustain your business as a paralegal practitioner is to be fully aware of what you can and cannot do and relay this information at every opportunity to your clients. Reserved activities can only be carried out by those authorised by The Legal Services Act 2007, such as solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives. This legal work that a paralegal is not authorised to do includes (amongst others) the right of the audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities (relating to the transfer of land) and probate activities, which can only be done by a solicitor of the chartered legal executive or under the supervision of the same.
What Does This Mean In Reality?
The Right Of Audience
This means that a paralegal cannot automatically have the right to represent a client in court unless it is in a tribunal (other than an appeals tribunal) or the small claims court. If a case that the paralegal is dealing with ends up in ‘open’ court (i.e. open to the public) before a Circuit Judge or a High Court Judge, then the paralegal must instruct a barrister to represent their client. Paralegals can gain a ‘Licence to Instruct’ barristers directly (through the Bar Standards Board) if they have an identifiable area of expertise or appropriate experience.
There are occasions when a paralegal has been granted a right of an audience. Still, only if requested in advance, which is subject to the discretion of the judge and the competency of the paralegal.
The Conduct Of Litigation
a paralegal cannot sign letters or court documents on behalf of their client as it will infer that they are conducting litigation. However, they can draft such letters and documents, but they must be signed by the client themselves. This also means that they are not allowed to be agents in order to be served with court documents or receive letters from the other party or their representatives.
This can cause difficulty for clients as they will have the burden and stress of receiving all the documentation and correspondence, which can be overwhelming but can’t be helped. There are occasions where a paralegal has applied to the judge in a specific case to be allowed to receive service of such letters and documents because the client is in a delicate or nervous state (medical evidence should support this), and this has, at the discretion of the judge, been permitted.
Reserved Instrument Activities
paralegals are not permitted to undertake conveyancing transactions on behalf of clients unless they have a licence from the Council of Licensed Conveyancers.
paralegals cannot apply for a grant of probate on behalf of a client executor or sign any probate forms. This is reserved only for solicitors or chartered legal executives. However, paralegals can assist a client to do it for themselves as long as they sign all documents.
The above indicates how important it is for paralegal practitioners to be aware of the limitations of what they are permitted to do. It is also necessary for there to be complete transparency with potential clients about such limitations, which, even though they seem overly restrictive, in practice, there remains a great deal that the paralegal can do for their clients.
Fees And Money
paralegals cannot take monies in advance or hold client money on account. Everything a paralegal does should be agreed upon with the client beforehand, and the fees should also be agreed upon before any work is undertaken. Once completed, the paralegal can invoice the client as agreed. There should be no surprises. If a fee is required in advance for something, then the client will have to pay for it themselves.
To ensure that paralegals have a sustainable business practice, not only should they adhere to all of the above, but they should also relay all of this in a client care letter together with any complaints policy and have all the information publicly available online. Hopefully, fully compliant with the above will effectively negate any possible complaint. However, it is always a good idea to belong to a paralegal membership body, such as NALP, which provides extra confidence for you and any client. It also means that as a paralegal practitioner, you have somewhere to turn to for advice and have a secondary level of complaint should a client be unhappy with your services. Although, if you are fully compliant and transparent, this should never happen.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal bods 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.