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LCN Says

Law firms: what happens after covid-19? How can the paralegal sector help you get back on your feet?

updated on 21 July 2020

As we gently ease out of lockdown, some legal practices find themselves in a catch-22, wondering whether or not to invest in remote working facilities when their financial situation is so vulnerable.

Indeed, I am aware of one commercial business owner that has 300 employees and a massive weekly payroll. She has to make just that decision: should she financially invest in supplying Internet, computers and phones for them to work at home when there is little/no income coming in? Furthermore, there is the knowledge that this situation will not last indefinitely. It’s a difficult position in which to find oneself.

When lockdown is over

When the lockdown is finally fully lifted, law firms will be looking to get back into business and onto an even keel as swiftly as possible. However, they will also probably be looking to cut costs to do so.

This needs to be balanced with the knowledge that certain types of work are likely to be more abundant than others in the immediate aftermath of lockdown. For example, employment contract, commercial leases and contracts, tenancy agreements, general contractual disputes and company mergers and acquisitions.

What can you do if your firm does not employ (or is unable financially to employ) sufficient experienced individuals in these areas? This is where outsourcing to a local licenced paralegal may solve the problem. NALP licenced paralegals specialise in one or two legal areas and will not be as costly to employ on a contractual basis as a qualified solicitor.  As many have their own paralegal practice, it’s possible either to outsource or sub-contract the work to them, while keeping the management (and profits) in-house.

Lower-fees clients

In addition, a firm that offers general legal services is quite often unable to assist clients at the lower end, such as small claims, contractual disputes or tribunal matters. When the lockdown is lifted, there will be a rush of such legal matters to deal with. It therefore makes sense to utilise the services of a NALP paralegal or two.

For example, some SMEs such as shop-front commercial businesses, as well as self-employed individuals, may need legal advice and assistance to get back on track after covid-19. Access to this may be too costly via conventional routes (ie, paying a fee to a solicitor). In matters such as general contractual advice, employment contracts, collection of debts or minor civil disputes, and in particular, contractual disputes, a NALP licenced paralegal practitioner would be able to help.

It may not have been financially viable to take on such clients previously, but if your firm has a paralegal or a team of paralegals on hand (whether in house or externally), perhaps such assistance can be offered – increasing the immediate profits and bringing in clients who might later need larger fee-paying services.

What to look out for if using paralegal services

  1. Are they a member of a professional body such as NALP (National Association of Licenced Paralegals) or registered with the PPR (Professional Paralegal Register)?  
  1. Do they have either a NALP Licence to Practise or a PPR Practising Certificate, and professional indemnity insurance (PII)? The latter is not necessary if you are employing them in-house staff within your practice.
  1. It is important to check the training and qualifications of paralegals, which will be dependent on the type of work you require them to do. Entry level (basic work and assistance) may only require a Level 3 qualification (such as the NALP Level 3 Certificate or Diploma.) Alternatively, work that requires a level of expertise and skill may require an applicant to have either a minimum Level 4 (such as the NALP Level Diploma) or a law degree or above. 
  1. Ensure that the activity you need help with is something that a paralegal is allowed to deal with. Essentially, Paralegals can do almost everything a solicitor can do, but certain activities are reserved and cannot be performed by a paralegal.

There is no doubt that paralegals can play a big part in getting the legal sector back on its feet quickly and help to ensure the profession is in a position in which it can thrive once more.

To find a paralegal with the qualifications and experience your practice requires visit: the NALP paralegal register.

Amanda Hamilton is chief executive of the National Association of Licenced 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). Follow the NALP on Twitter (@NALP_UK), LinkedIn and Facebook.

Find out more about working as a paralegal.