Adding an extra qualification or recognized skill can boost your career prospects explains Amanda Hamilton

In the UK alone, there are an estimated 200,000 plus paralegals working in a variety of fields, and for diverse employers, who are unaware that they are paralegals. Are you one of them?

What is a paralegal?

The National Association of Licensed Paralegals defines a paralegal as ‘a person qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures but who is not a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive.’

  • Do you work for an organization that has you performing a task which has a legal content to it?

For example, checking a contract, being responsible for ensuring that letters are sent out to non-payers and/or taking them to court.

  • Have you ever been given in-house training that includes an element of law or legal knowledge?

For example, working in an in-house human resources department and been given training in employment law.

If you answered the above questions with a yes, then it looks like you are a paralegal and can be accredited as such.

Why should this matter?

In the current economic climate, adding an extra qualification or recognised skill can boost your career, your status within an organization, and can set you apart from other candidates when job hunting.

Paralegals are not just people who have studied law. Being able to perform certain tasks, like drafting contracts, is important for many companies.  Companies may not necessarily wish to use the services of a solicitor each time they require a contract because, economically, it may not be viable. Thus, many will revert to training individuals (non-lawyers) to complete these tasks.

Over the last few years, the legal climate has changed dramatically, and paralegals have taken on a new significance in the roles they perform. Some work for solicitors, others for barristers and in-house legal departments, or within large corporates, but more and more, paralegals are working for themselves.

In the UK, they are filling a gap that has been left by the eradication of legal aid. This was means tested funding that used to be available (until April 2013) for anyone who had the necessity to go to court, either to bring an action against someone, or to defend themselves.  Solicitors’ and barristers’ fees have always been quite substantial, so many people are now forced either to represent themselves in court or alternatively, use the services of paralegals. Paralegals charge lower fees than solicitors and can guide them through the processes.

Although this situation may not assist you if you are working in-house, being recognized as a paralegal, or at least being recognized as having paralegal skills, can thrust you towards a more positive career pathway. Gaining recognized qualifications and being part of a professional membership body can also give you a boost.

What is it that paralegals can do?

The answer to this question is, virtually everything that a solicitor can do!  However, in the UK, there are certain activities that designated ‘reserved activities’ and these remain the monopoly of solicitors and barristers.

Reserved activities

By Section 12 of The Legal Services Act 2007, there are six reserved activities that remain the monopoly of solicitors and barristers:

  1. The right to conduct litigation (only solicitors have the right to do this): Issuing proceedings for a client and any associated actions in relation to this and acting as agent for any client in such proceedings unless they are exempt because a specific court grants permission in a specific case
  2. The right of audience (barristers or solicitors or solicitor/advocates have this right): the right to appear before a court and speak on behalf of a client and examine witnesses unless exempt because the specific court grants permission in a specific case
  3. Reserved Instrument Activities (solicitors or licensed conveyancers have the right to do this): such as preparing a form of Transfer of property and being able to lodge such at The Land Registry although it excludes the right to draft such documents
  4. Probate Activities (only granted to solicitors): such as the preparation of probate documents for the purposes of the law of England and Wales or any proceedings (e.g. contesting a grant of probate of letters of administration) but excludes the right to be able to draft Wills and Powers of Attorney etc:
  5. Notarial activities (Notaries only have this right): these are quite specific and refer to activities in relation to The Public Notaries Act 1801
  6. The right to administer oaths (only solicitors have this right): conferred on a commissioner of oaths under various statutes.

So, there is a broad spectrum of legal areas that a paralegal can deal with and relatively few that they cannot. For example, they can help with monetary disputes or claims, employment, or housing matters.

Apart from this, there is plenty of scope for a paralegal, not only to advise and assist a consumer but also to gain a Licence to Practise in order to do so.

What next?

If joining a professional body or gaining paralegal qualifications interests you, or you want to find out more, your local or national association will be able to assist you.


American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE)

National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)

National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) 


Paralegal Society of Canada

Canadian Association of Paralegals

South Africa

South African Paralegal Association (SAPA)


Scottish Paralegal Association

United Kingdom

Institute of Paralegals

Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)

National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive 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). ... (Read More)

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