Paralegal professionals offer great value, but there are limits to the help they can offer
By Amanda Hamilton, Patron, National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
Budgets are being tightened everywhere with individuals and businesses looking to find ways to reduce costs. But can you make savings if you are faced with an issue that involves an element of legality? The instinctive move by many is to turn to a solicitor, which will incur hourly fees ranging from £200 to £600 is attractive. This can sting, especially if the legal problem is relatively minor. The good news is that there is an alternative: the paralegal sector.
With the average hourly rate of a paralegal falling between £30 and £80 per hour, depending on the nature of the work, paralegals can help companies and individuals avoid wrecking their budgets. Paralegals, while not solicitors, are legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer help to businesses as well as individual consumers. There are many areas where a paralegal can provide assistance, but two of the most common are: debt collection and contracts.
Paralegals can help a business to collect debts owed. If a client can’t pay an invoice, then it is always best to talk first rather than leaping straight to legal action. An offer and willingness to make a part payment and negotiate how to pay the balance would surely be more acceptable than receiving no payment at all. Plus, there will be a saving of additional time and money needed to chase and collect the debt.
If a satisfactory arrangement cannot be made, a paralegal can assist by completing the necessary pre-action protocols: drafting a letter to the debtor and explaining what is owed and how long it is overdue and giving the debtor a certain time frame to pay the amount outstanding, with the threat that if it is not paid court action will ensue.
If necessary, the paralegal can help complete the necessary court forms, advising what to say and how to write it on the form. Paralegals can also, if it gets that far, represent a person or business in court as long as it is a ‘small claim’ (one that is not more than £10,000). Hopefully, that would not be necessary as the debtor would likely be in contact beforehand, but if it is, the paralegal is there and can assist at a reasonable cost.
Drafting commercial business contracts with other businesses or individuals is a skill requiring specialist knowledge, and this is where a paralegal can help, either by drafting such a contract or casting an eye over one that has been sent to ensure there is nothing detrimental within it.
For example: a clause expressing that there is a 90 day notice to terminate the agreement, which is a commonly used termination period, may go on to state that notice can only be given prior to the renewal of the contractual term, which may be 12 months. Therefore, if terminating the contract in the thirteenth month, the contract will not come to an end until a further eleven months have passed. This may have financial consequences which have not been budgeted for. A specialist paralegal should be able to spot this on first reading, advise accordingly, and/or suggest an alternative form of words that offers greater protection.
These are just a couple of common examples of when using a paralegal can provide services without having to pay high solicitor’s fees. There are many other legal matters that a paralegal can also help with.
Of course, there are some limitations imposed on paralegals. They are restricted in what they can do by Reserved Activities. The most common restrictions relate to a ‘right of audience’, where a paralegal is not permitted to represent a client in all courts apart from the small claims’ court and the tribunal.
The second common limitation is that a paralegal is not permitted to ‘conduct litigation’, meaning that they cannot sign letters and documents on a client’s behalf or be an agent and be served with official court documents. However, to get round that hurdle, they can draft letters, and complete forms for clients, but clients must sign and serve these themselves.
When choosing a paralegal, it is important to engage one that is both sufficiently qualified and, like any professional, appropriately insured. One way to ensure this it to choose a paralegal that has a Licence to Practise. A search for paralegals in a particular area, or with the specialism needed can be made at https://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk/paralegal-register.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is the Patron 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 (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.