In recent years, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) have sought to address the issue of inequality and lack of diversity in the legal profession. Just as they had previously noted that ethnic and gender equality was extremely beneficial to the sector, they recognised that having legal professionals from all walks of life brings similar benefits and this led to the first legal apprenticeships, the Higher Apprenticeships in Legal Services, being introduced in 2013.
In his speech on reforming legal education in 2012, the then Supreme Court President, Lord Neuberger, estimated the overall cost of entering the legal profession through university at around £100,000 including living expenses. He highlighted the inherent threat saying: “A less diverse profession is an impoverished one, one less able to reflect and support a flourishing democracy committed to the rule of law”.
The new apprenticeships brought new options to those who had not gone on to higher education, but who wanted to work in Law and were put off by those high costs, and without the guarantee of a job at the end of it. After the success of the initial apprenticeships four “Trailblazer apprenticeships” were set up in England in 2016, replacing the earlier ones. Included was the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard which continues to grow in popularity, despite a few hiccups when it was first launched, including the End Point Assessment Organisation, CILEX, being sanctioned by Ofqual in 2019 following major issues with the first assessments in 2018.
The Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard is now being completely overhauled, bringing many improvements designed to give the apprentices a great foundation on which to build a career as a Professional Paralegal. The new Standard is expected to be signed off and launched in Summer 2023. In addition, more End Point Assessment Organisations have been approved to deliver the End Point Assessment for the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard, giving apprentices, employers and training providers more choice for the delivery of the assessment. One of those new End Point Assessment Organisations is NALP (The National Association of Licensed Paralegals), the UK’s oldest established professional membership body for paralegals.
There are also moves to encourage smaller firms to take on apprentices. In-house legal teams can benefit from having a paralegal apprentice, as can small specialist firms, such as probate research or those offering Wills and succession planning services, many of whom may be wholly staffed by paralegals.
Paralegals are important
There are many circumstances when you might require the services of a paralegal:
- If someone takes you to court claiming that you allegedly owe them money and you need to defend yourself
- If you need to take someone to court and need assistance with regard to the process
- If you have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation. Many paralegals are what is known as ‘Police Station Accredited’ and that means that they can be called out to assist you at a police station
- If you need assistance in a Matrimonial matter
- If you wish to take action against your employer through a Tribunal
- To assist you in writing a Will or to obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney in respect of a relative
- To assist you in a housing matter
- To assist you with any welfare matter
Most consumers cannot afford the fees charged by solicitors and barristers. Paralegals can do almost everything a solicitor does, with the exception of the Reserved Activities, which includes things like undertaking litigation and having a right of audience in a court. However, they can help the litigants in person (parties going to court without legal representation from a solicitor or barrister) understand the process and ensure that they are completing all of the forms and processes necessary when they are facing a legal issue. If there were no options, such as paralegals, to assist these litigants in person, they would not have the money to engage a solicitor and would have to rely on the limited advice that can be given by the already overburdened court staff.
One of the many positives of paralegals undergoing an apprenticeship is that they get real-world experience of dealing with legal matters and even, in some cases, with clients. Paralegals are the fastest growing profession within the legal sector, so this experience can make the knowledge and qualifications gained during their apprenticeship invaluable to other potential employers, enhancing their transferable skills and opening more doors for them.
Jane Robson is the CEO of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual.