The Rise of the Paralegal

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Following our attendance at the recent National Paralegal Awards as a finalist in the category of Paralegal Recruitment Organisation of the Year, we interviewed Rita Leat, Managing Director of the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR), to discuss how paralegals are advancing and evolving within the legal profession.

How important are paralegals to the workflow of solicitors’ firms or in-house legal departments?

Paralegals make up the largest profession within the legal services market. There are an estimated 100,000 paralegals that work in the UK. Law firms simply could not operate without a Paralegal workforce. They provide at a junior level both administrative and legal support and at the fully qualified level they are often fee-earners assisting a firm to grow. In in-house legal departments it is often important to have Paralegals that also have business knowledge and expertise in their organisations main business. This is particularly true for the pharmaceutical sector. Small legal practices can utilise the services of Paralegals to enable them to take on more clients at a reasonable cost.

How does the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) recognise the success of paralegals and support their development?

The PPR is the overarching voluntary regulator for Paralegals and those who offer legal services in an otherwise unregulated market. It offers full regulation for those who are qualified to hold a Paralegal Practising Certificate and this helps to support their professionalism both to employers and consumers. We also work with our Recognised Bodies to ensure professional standards are maintained in each sector. The PPR has adopted the Institute of Paralegals competency standards that are mapped to the National Occupational Standards for Legal Services.

Has the prestige associated with the role of a paralegal risen in recent times?

PPR Paralegals are now recognised as the Fourth Arm of the Legal Profession as they are both qualified and accountable through regulation. Paralegals have many different job titles such as Contracts Manager; Employment Adviser; Will Writer etc and therefore it is imperative to be recognised via a professional membership body such as the Institute of Paralegals; the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators or the Association of Probate Researchers as well as opting to become members of the PPR. These individuals are the top Paralegals in the country and should be a first choice for employers.

Are there any practice areas in particular which are high in demand for paralegals?

To be honest all areas of legal practice need more Paralegals. Areas such as IT; GDPR and Mediators are all relatively new roles for Paralegals and are in increasing demand.

What advice would you give to candidates seeking a paralegal position which has the prospect to become a training contract?

Show commitment, be professional and remain determined. Ask yourself what do you really know about the Paralegal profession? Join the Institute of Paralegals for a wealth of knowledge and expertise, start networking with other members, raise your profile by joining the PPR.

How do you see the role of the paralegal evolving in the future?

Long gone are the days of needing generic training programmes. A full-on Level 3 or 6 qualification that covers a whole list of legal areas is not normally required and can be a waste of money. It is far better to specialise early on and adapt and retrain as new areas of expertise are in demand. Paralegals can perform 90% of the duties that a Solicitor can and have the ability to gain knowledge quickly to meet their employer’s changing needs. Business Paralegals will become more important to organisations and law firms.

Are there any challenges that potentially lie ahead which are addressed by employing paralegals?

Absolutely. Law firms need specialist Paralegals when there is an upturn in workload. Many Paralegals offer short-term or even freelance work that can assist firms and organisations that work on projects without necessarily increasing their headcount on a permanent basis.

Paralegals make cost-effective fee-earners who in many cases are happy to be Professional Paralegals rather than necessarily chasing a training contract. This is attractive to many law firms.