How To Set Up Your Own Paralegal Practice. 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 Licensed Paralegals (NALP). Amanda will offer advice on setting up your own paralegal practice. If you plan to set up your own paralegal practice, delivering paralegal services directly to businesses and consumers, there are several issues to consider.
How To Set Up Your Own Paralegal Practice
If you plan to set up your own paralegal practice, delivering paralegal services directly to businesses and consumers, there are several issues to consider. This range initially from whether you have sufficient qualifications and experience, professional status, and demand to how to set up your business, including the dos and don’ts.
So, let’s stake a look at each in turn.
Do You Have The Necessary Competency?
Although you may feel you know to perform specific legal tasks and offer advice and assistance, you must provide evidence to back this up. Clients want to be sure that the person handling their delicate legal issue is competent.
Showing your qualifications and work experience to date will help give clients that comfort. Although having a recognised qualification is unnecessary, it will undoubtedly help. It will ensure you are fully informed and give clients confidence too.
Even if you already have several years of work experience—perhaps in-house at a large company, in the public sector, or within a solicitor’s practice—gaining an Ofqual recognised paralegal qualification would help to cement that experience and prove that you are competent to perform the work you are being asked to do.
There are various levels of qualifications, and which one you choose will depend on how much experience you have. These qualifications start with an entry-level qualification which is the Level 3 Award in Paralegal Practice (2 units of study), to the Level 3 Certificate (4 units of study), and finally, the Level 3 Diploma (6 units of study). There is also the Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies (10 units of study) and the Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice for those who already have gained a Law Degree (6 units of study).
Even if you have a recognised qualification, it’s always best to keep your knowledge up to date (which you must do if you have a NALP Licence to Practise) by completing CPD courses each year.
Protection – For You And Your Clients
Being a member of a professional body, such as the National Association for Licensed Paralegals (NALP), is another way to give you extra kudos, credibility, and your client’s confidence. It also offers both you and their protection.
Gaining a Licence to Practise from NALP, for example, shows that a level of due diligence has been performed to ascertain an individual’s experience and qualifications, which have been thoroughly checked and scrutinised. In addition, the eligibility to gain a Licence to Practise requires the applicant to have PII (Professional Indemnity Insurance). This gives any potential client confidence that you have the backup should there be an issue.
Should there be a grievance, NALP can act as an independent arbiter, ensuring you are not the victim of vexatious complaints while also helping to ensure that the reputation of the paralegal sector is appropriately protected.
Being a NALP member also allows you to get support and advice from highly experienced individuals within the organisation about your practice and career.
Before thinking about setting up on your own, you have to ensure sufficient demand for your particular type of work. Failure to do so means you will not succeed in a sustainable business. This means that you must know your market. It is essential to have an experience where you wish to work and understand the services clients may want from you: Who are your potential clients? Where will you find them? What services will they want? Can you fulfil that need? How much competition is there? How will you set yourself apart?
Ensuring you understand the market and the demand is critical to building a profitable business.
A learner signs up for a Paralegal Studies qualification. It takes her two years to complete, after which she joins a criminal law firm. She has worked there for five years, during which time she spots a demand for legally qualified individuals to care for vulnerable clients during the criminal law process. Then she leaves the firm and sets up her own business assisting such clients. She qualifies as a police station representative, and after some time, she applies to the Bar Standards Board for Licensed Access to instruct barristers directly on behalf of her clients. She succeeds in her application. Now she runs a very successful practice where she can provide continuity and a presence for her clients from the moment they are arrested right the way through to court proceedings if it gets that far.
Setting Up The Business
So, you have your professional membership and your Licence to Practise. What next? Should you incorporate your business straight away? The simple answer is no. The best way to test whether a business works is to commence as a sole trader. If it is successful enough after the first few years, you could consider converting it to a limited company. However, it’s always best to get some independent financial advice from an accountant first regarding the pros and cons of each type of business.
For example, an issue to consider if you were to incorporate your business is the cost, as it involves the requirement to have accounts drafted each year by a chartered accountant. On the other hand, one of the advantages is that you will have limited liability if something goes wrong, so make sure you get the proper advice before starting up.
Marketing And PR
There should be consistent and ongoing marketing to ensure your business is sustainable. This can range from Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to ensure your website (and you really should have one) is found easily on any search engine to PR involving the publication of articles written by you in relevant magazines and websites, which will help to get your name and expertise known.
What type of marketing you choose may be determined by the kind of business you have (and want to have in the future) and what you like to do. For example, some people love posting on social media. Others like to create webinars or newsletters. Some prefer to write articles. Networking is also an excellent option to get your name and business known; remember that while this can be very effective, it is a slow burner.
You also need to decide whether to outsource to an expert, which in the first instance, is probably the best option as you can control the costs, and it frees you up to do the work you love – being a paralegal. However, outsourcing does come with a financial cost, which leads quite nicely into the final element but perhaps the most important:
Clearly, in order to set up a business, whether as a sole trader or as a limited company, you need finance. Of course, you could do everything yourself—create your own website, post on social media, do your own PR, etc.—but you may find that this is time-consuming and hurts your business; the more you are working on marketing, the less time you have to offer your services. At some point, you will need help, and this is where you need the finance. Some may say it’s a chicken and egg situation as you need the business to earn the money to sustain the marketing, but you can’t gain the business without it.
By starting small and building gradually, you may be able to finance your growth from your earnings, but if not, borrowing money from a bank could be the way to go if you can provide a proper business plan. There are government-backed loans available too. But, once again, it’s always best to get proper independent financial advice first regarding what your business can afford, what it might need, and where to go to Access that finance.
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 body 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.