“The future of the legal sector lies in the hands of paralegals” – A conversation with Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of NALP.

Paralegals play an integral role in the legal sector and beyond – so much so that you could be working as a paralegal without even realising it. We spoke to Amanda Hamilton, chief executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals, about her experience in the field, and gained her perspective on what the future holds for paralegals.

  • Last updated May 2, 2018 8:00:33 PM
  • Becky Kells, Editor, AllAboutLaw
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Could you briefly describe your career so far – what brought you to your position as Chief Executive of NALP? 
Well, I’ve had an unconventional life so far! I didn’t do my law degree until I was slightly older than most people. My career started off in a different vein in the beauty therapy line, but I decided later on that I was attracted to law, and coming from a family of lawyers, it’s obviously in the blood.

I did my law degree and intended to train as a solicitor, but unfortunately my father, with whom I was working, passed away suddenly, and I moved into a different direction.

 To cut a very long story short, having spent about eight years subsequently working in the property business with my own consultancy, and then head hunted by a large company, I was subsequently made redundant and decided to go back into law. It was the paralegal profession which caught my attention.

Out of the blue I obtained a teaching job with someone who was running a paralegal skills course, and I decided that this was the career path for me. I branched out, developed my own training programme, and asked the then Chief Executive of NALP (which has been running since 1987) to accredit the course I was offering and delivering, thereby getting to know him very well and discussing the legal sector generally.

When he retired 10 years ago, he asked me if I would take over the Chief Executorship, and I have been in the role ever since.

What are the aims and objectives of NALP? 
Our aim is, and always has been, to strengthen the voice that paralegals have within the legal sector, and to improve the status and perception of what a paralegal is and can do. With regards to objectives, we have bespoke qualifications, which we provide to train people in an appropriate and robust way to enter the paralegal sector. That is, in a nutshell, what we aim to do.

But primarily, it’s to grow the status of the paralegal and to create a situation where people regard paralegals as a profession in its own right.

 You wrote about how a lot of professionals find themselves doing paralegal work, despite their job titles not reflecting this. How can young people identify whether they are working as paralegals without knowing it? 
I think the crux of it is that if there’s an element of legality in what they do, whatever that may be, in our eyes that makes them a paralegal. For anybody who is not quite sure of their status, I would say, “what is it that you do?” and if there’s any law or legality involved in your day-to-day working life, then we would take you under our umbrella and regard you as a paralegal.

NALP offers a number of courses for aspiring paralegals. What are the benefits of doing a course with NALP?  
I think in this day and age, and with the sector having changed so rapidly over the past few years, it’s very important that a paralegal is properly trained and qualified. Our courses are all bespoke, accredited and regulated qualifications, and since NALP is an awarding organisation that is regulated by OfQual (the government body for national qualifications in England), we can guarantee that all of our bespoke qualifications are robust and fit for purpose.

If you’re wanting to be a paralegal working in the legal sector, it’s essential that, just like if you were trained to be a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive, that you have the right qualifications under your belt.

This not only gives someone confidence to do legal work, but also will give their clients and consumers the confidence in them. I think that’s so important for an individual – to make sure they’re properly qualified and trained. 

For young people seeking to work as paralegals, what advice would you offer? 

I know it’s very difficult generally in the sector to get into the conventional professions with the lack of training contracts and pupillages, I would say to an aspiring paralegal that there are plenty of jobs out there - and I’m not just talking about working for solicitors or barristers. 

Any organisation that has a legal element to what they do will have a legal department or legal professionals working within the company.

To any young person seeking to work as a paralegal, I’d say: “find something that you enjoy doing – fashion, or cars, football, for example. Find something that you’re passionate about, and try and get into an organisation and work as a paralegal within the field that you enjoy.

For example, most premiership football clubs will have massive HR departments in which they will employ solicitors, barristers and paralegals. The same is true of fashion houses, retail institutions and so on. If a young individual out there wants to work as a paralegal, don’t just focus on the legal sector per se - branch out, look at an interest or hobby that you have, and try and work within that framework.

There’s a lot of change afoot in the legal sector at the moment – where do you see the paralegal profession going in the coming years?

In my view, the future of the legal sector lies in the hands of paralegals. There are several reasons for this: there’s a huge gap opened up because of the withdrawal of legal aid for consumers, and that means that a lot of people cannot afford to pay out of their own pockets for the services of solicitors and barristers. This is where paralegals can step in and give advice and assistance.

At the discretion of some courts, sometimes paralegals are permitted to represent individuals who are otherwise being forced to represent themselves. I know that your readers will be very much aware of the fact that the courts are in a difficult situation at the moment because there are so many litigants in person turning up and representing themselves.

I know that representation in court is reserved for the regulated professionals such as solicitors and barristers. However, I’m also very much aware that courts are being backed into a corner and in some cases, certain judges are allowing, at their discretion, competent paralegals to step in in order to help the court process. In future, I believe that paralegals will be filling this huge gap left by the virtual eradication of legal aid.

There are also many paralegal practices opening up – we have quite a number of licensed paralegals operating as individual practitioners; they have professional indemnity insurance, they are very carefully vetted by NALP as members, and there are certain rules and codes that they have to adhere to. These practices are emerging on a daily basis and this will only increase in the future. 

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). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional. See: nationalparalegals.co.uk and nalptraining.co.uk.

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