What is a paralegal?
Paralegal is a term to describe someone who works in a law firm or other business doing legal work but does not need to be qualified as a regulated lawyer.
A paralegal may have completed training in law, but they do not need to be legally qualified. A paralegal might be very experienced and knowledgeable. They may also be covered by regulations relating to the firm they work in. But the term paralegal can be used by anyone.
So, before you ask a paralegal to help you, find out what work they will do, what experience they have and what protections you will have.
People who call themselves paralegals may also use titles such as Legal Adviser, Legal Assistant or Litigation Executive. Anyone can use these titles.
What can a paralegal do?
A paralegal cannot carry out work that is reserved for regulated lawyers unless their work is supervised and they work in a firm regulated by an approved regulator. For example, a paralegal can't represent you in court or complete your house purchase.
Not all paralegals work for regulated legal services providers. A paralegal can set up a business to provide legal services on their own, or with other paralegals. They are allowed to do this as long as they do not offer services that are reserved to regulated lawyers.
Are paralegals regulated?
Paralegals who work for a regulated legal services provider must follow the rules that their firm's regulator makes. For example, a paralegal who works for a solicitors' firm must follow rules set down for the firm by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or CILEx Regulation.
Paralegals may work on their own or in firms run only by paralegals and non-qualified staff. These firms are not regulated.
Voluntary organisations like the Institute of Paralegals or the National Association of Licensed Paralegals provide codes of conduct, training and other support for their members. But they are not regulators.
How are you protected if you use a paralegal?
If you use a paralegal who works for a firm that is a regulated legal services provider, you will have all of the protections available to the clients of the firm.
If you use a paralegal who does not work for a regulated firm and things go wrong, you will not have the same protections that you would have had if you had used a regulated firm. See our online problem tool to learn more.
If you pay to use a paralegal, you should be treated fairly and get a good level of service, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. If a paralegal is a member of a group such as the Institute of Paralegals or the National Association of Licensed Paralegals they have agreed to follow a code of conduct. Paralegals who are members of CILEx must follow the CILEx Code and are regulated as individuals by CILEx Regulation.
Top tip: If someone uses a title that you do not recognise as belonging to a regulated lawyer and they do not work for a regulated legal services provider, find out what qualifications they have and what protections will be available to you. Ask if they are insured, follow a code of conduct or belong to a membership body. Check their website or ask them directly before you agree to use their services.
What can I do if I have a complaint about my paralegal?
If your paralegal works for a regulated legal services provider, the firm should have told you about their complaints procedure and you should contact them first. If you are unhappy with their response, you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman. If your paralegal does not work for a regulated legal services provider, you cannot complain to the Legal Ombudsman. But, if you have paid your paralegal, you have a right to make a complaint under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
If your paralegal is a member of a body such as the Institute of Paralegals or the National Association of Licensed Paralegals, their membership body could look into your complaint if you say that your paralegal has not met the standard of service expected from their members. Paralegals who are members of CILEx must follow the CILEx Code and are regulated as individuals by CILEx Regulation.
How should I pay for a paralegal?
First, find out what work will be done for you and how much you will be charged. You may be told that you will pay a fixed fee. If so, try to find out if there are any hidden extras. For example, a fixed fee is probably won't include ‘disbursements'— costs that your paralegal will pay to others on your behalf.
If you are charged an hourly rate, your bill will depend on how much work your paralegal does. Ask for an estimate of the total costs.