UK Paralegals are an unregulated body of professionals but with the advent of several businesses all trying to introduce separate ‘standards’ it is becoming a more popular career of choice. The Paralegal’s role is to provide more cost effective operating costs to legal services under the supervision of Solicitors or Barristers. A degree is not necessary.
The Solicitors Act 1974 reserves certain legal activities for Solicitors and therefore Paralegals can only perform many of these activities under the supervision of Solicitors or Barristers.
Some unregulated legal activities such as appearing at Tribunals, County Court Small Claims, Trademark and Patents agents can be performed by Paralegals, unsupervised.
If, in the event that the UK government recognises the Profession of Paralegals as a third independent legal profession and gives them powers to work in those areas reserved for Solicitors, Paralegals will continue to work under supervision, except as mentioned, in those unregulated areas.
There are 2 ways to become Paralegals:
1. Having relevant legal work experience
2. Completing an appropriate Course.
Having your legal work experience recognised is not a route which is open to all. Working within a legal environment requires knowledge of legal procedures and Solicitors do not normally have the time nor the inclination to train someone on the job – this environment is far too busy. They prefer to employ someone who has already obtained legal knowledge.
Selecting an appropriate course is now becoming a minefield. How can you evaluate the most effective type of course to study? As a general rule, courses which cover Procedural Law and give a hands-on approach to procedures, form filling, research, interviewing and such practical knowledge are what solicitors value most.
In the UK, a law degree in itself, does not prepare you for the role of a Paralegal. Unless you are aiming to qualify as a Solicitor or Barrister, this is not necessary. Having a law degree will necessitate further legal qualification such as completing a Procedural Law Course or the Law Society’s Legal Practice Course.
There are now several universities offering paralegal qualifications in addition to private and independent colleges and there should be a course to suit everyone. All aspects of legal studies can be undertaken eg. Immigration, Probate, Commercial Law, Corporate Law, Conveyancing, Litigation, Principles of English Law, Maritime Law, Human Rights, International and European Law and the list goes on.
There are also several ‘levels’ of qualifications being offered by different institutions and undertaking a course which gives an Introduction or an Overview is simply to test whether this is a career for you and should not be viewed as acquiring required level of competency.
Obtaining a legal qualification can be done by Distance Learning, Online or face-to-face with many institutions.