The Line Separating “Lawyers” From “Paralegal” Becomes Blurred

Lynne at Practical Paralegalism has a good post entitled, “Paralegals, Watch Your Backs! Out-of-Work Lawyers Want Your Jobs. ”  The post discusses a story that also caught my eye describing how the recession has resulted in lay-offs of almost 6,000 lawyers that, according to Lawshucks.com, a Web site that tracks legal layoffs – are willing to work in the legal industry as paralegals, law librarians and legal secretaries.

This is of particular interest to me as an academic researching paralegalism in other countries. (An interest, therefore, of far less import than that of practicing paralegals who may feel threatened by this development.) On a recent trip to London I learned that the term “paralegal” is taking on a new meaning for a similar reason. In England law students “study law” for four years at the Bachelor’s level, then take a one-year “legal practice” program before entering into a two-year training program under contract with one of the “chambers” authorized to practice before the courts. The problem is that every year there are almost twice as many graduates of the Bachelor level programs as there are “chambers” contracts available.

Those graduates who do not get the contracts have become a pool of individuals who call themselves “paralegals.” However, these “paralegals” are not subject to the same restrictions as paralegals in the United States, so many end up setting up their own practices and working directly with clients without the supervision of attorneys. In England, people needing legal services still have a common law right to chose the person from whom they receive those services, so the paralegals are on safe footing as long as they make it clear they are not solicitors or barristers.  I had the pleasure of meeting with one such practitioner who maintains his own office with two other “paralegals” who work under his direction and others staff. The office serves mainly people who have legal problems dealing with immigration. The immigration service has granted him the right to represent his clients before the immigration courts.

This is, of course, a grossly simplified statement of the British system. I will explain further in later posts. I will also post regarding groups of paralegals like one of which I am aware in Portland, Maine, that runs their own independent office, but provides services to attorneys on a contract basis.

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