Types of Lawyer
Who are Paralegals?
As a heads up in advance, for more information on opportunities in this area, head over to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives for detail
Paralegals are people who do legal work, even though they are not lawyers. There are approximately 300,000 paralegals in total. They work in solicitors' firms, government (both central and local), industry and commerce and the not-for-profit sector – i.e. virtually anywhere where there are organisations that have legal issues – i.e. virtually everywhere!
Following the government’s concerted effort to end the solicitors' monopoly on the provision of most types of legal advice/services, there are now approximately 4,000 paralegal law firms. These are commercial organisations offering legal services to the public and other businesses without the involvement of lawyers.
Paralegals are not yet a distinct profession (although it is going that way). What unites the 300,000 is that they all do significant amount of legal work that would previously have been (or often still is) done by solicitors.
Because “paralegal” is a catch-all, default, term it encompasses everyone from a legal secretary regularly helping out her boss on his/her conveyancing files all the way through to many qualified and experienced overseas lawyers working here in the UK. As a result, many paralegal jobs do not have that title: caseworker; adviser; legal assistant; housing officer; trademark manager etc.
"There are already circa 60,000 paralegals working in solicitors' firms: more than all the associate, assistant and consultant solicitors combined..."
Given that the definition of “paralegal” is so broad, and that there is no unifying requirement for prior training, experience or qualifications, or even proven levels of competency, the paralegal profession has been slow to develop.
However this is changing fast because of three developments: - The continuing increase in the number of paralegals. Employers in all sectors realise that there are many legal jobs that do not require a solicitor or other lawyer. Paralegals are filling these posts. There are already circa 60,000 paralegals working in solicitors' firms: more than all the associate, assistant and consultant solicitors combined.
If the trend continues (and there is no reason why shouldn't) then within approximately 7 years there will be more paralegals working in solicitors firms than there are solicitors! - The above increase in paralegal numbers is coming about because ever more complex work is being delegated to paralegals. This in turn requires paralegals to be treated better, and requires more, better and better trained paralegals.
The professional body for paralegals, the not-for-profit Institute of Paralegals (http://www.InstituteofParalegals.org) has introduced a national career path for paralegals which leads to qualification. The route to qualification turned a job into a career, and an occupation into a profession.
For more information, head over to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives