Britain Studying Paralegal Qualification

The Law Society in Britain has commissioned a study to see whether there should be a paralegal “qualification” in Britain. The legal profession in Britain, despite our common heritage, is quite different than our. A law degree is the equivalent of a four-year undergraduate degree here. However, it qualifies the holder to enter an additional educational program which in turn qualifies the graduate to contract for final training with an existing law practice. Those who complete the training then qualify for status as either barristers or solicitors governed by The Law Society.There is another route for qualification as a legal administrator. According to a comment to the story on this new study, “ILEX is the professional body representing around 22,000 qualified and trainee Legal Executives, and is recognised by the Ministry of Justice as one of the three core routes to becoming a qualified lawyer.”

One problem is that there are about twice as many law degree graduates each year as there are training slots, leaving a large number of graduates who will not qualify any time soon as either solicitors or barristers. Many of these persons create their own legal service and call themselves paralegals. As noted in a previous post, in Britain the public can choose their representation to a larger degree than here where only the licensed attorney can practice law.

However, there as in most other jurisdictions there is a tension between the goals of providing affordable legal services to the public and protecting the public from incompetent service providers. Thus, one possible reason for the new study is concern over protecting the public from incompetent service provides. Another, as noted in one comment to the story might be that The Law Society is trying to protect solicitors’ turf.

I also previously reported on a spat in Britain between the Institute of Paralegals (IoP) and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) over who has launched the country’s first national training framework.” According to today’s story, IoP has endorsed this study:

IoP’s chief executive James O’Connell said: “This a very positive step for the future of paralegals in this country. They are often undertrained and underrecognised and being recognised by such a big player as the Law Society is just the type of backing the profession needs.”

Apparently the spat still exists. One of the comments, which responds not only to the story but to other comments, is from Amanda Hamilton. I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda and observing her teaching a class while in London researching paralegal professionalism there last summer. (IoP never responded to my requests, so I must confess to a bit of bias on behalf of NALP. Also NALP is a member of NFPA.) Here’s Amanda’s comment, which I am including in full because it fairly clearly (and I believe accurately) states the present state of affairs in Britain:

Referring to ‘Anonymous’ (30th July 12.56pm), we would like to point out that there are no such organisations as ‘The Licensed Institute of Paralegals’, ‘The National Paralegal Institute’ or the ‘Association of National Paralegals’.
There are only two professional bodies for paralegals: The NALP (The National Association of Licensed Paralegals) is the leading body and has been established for 23 years. The other is The Institute of Paralegals (IoP) formerly known as The Paralegal Association and formed around 2004.
We would also like to point out that the IOP’s ‘national framework’ is not the first ever framework for a paralegal career. The NALP has run one since 1989. It has been the forerunner for paralegal career development and its foundation qualification, the Higher Diploma in Paralegal Studies, has been (in the recent past) nationally accredited and recognised by The National Open College Network from 1995- 2002 and has been run by Further Education Colleges up and down the country.
More importantly NALP has recently gained Awarding Body accreditation and status from the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (OfQUAL), the watchdog for qualifications in England. Furthermore the NALP’s Post Graduate Diploma in Paralegal Practice (the PPC), is specifically designed for Law Graduates to enable them to obtain the necessary understanding of legal practice (because a Law Degree does not cover any of it), has been successfully running for ten years and the NALP Higher Diploma (procedural law content) been incorporated (as an option) in Sunderland University’s Law Degree Programme for the past six years. NALP will of course be working closely with The Law Society in connection with its proposed study and is already working with Skills For Justice in a similar vain. Those persons who have responded negatively, above, to the need for Paralegals to be qualified are either not in the profession or do not want to improve their careers. Qualifications are very necessary as the majority of Paralegals do virtually the same work as Solicitors. The ‘pen pushing office fodder’ referred to by some are not Paralegals but merely administrative clerks.

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