Scotland: A clear routemap for paralegal professional progress needed

An blog post entitled, “Time to recognise paralegals and reform regulation of their role” is circulating through the AAfPE listserv. Its basic contention is that “As more non-lawyers provide legal services, it is only right that paralegals be offered a clear routemap for professional progress.” Here’s the beginning of the post, while it refers to current events in Scotland, much of which will sound as familiar to paralegals in the U.S. as to those in Scotland:

They are the legal profession’s underclass. Nobody can say exactly what they do, or exactly how many of them there are. But they are set to become ever more central to the delivery of legal services. They are paralegals.

In a first for the UK, this week the Law Society of Scotland, in association with the Scottish Paralegal Association (SPA), formally launches its “registered paralegal” scheme, introducing across-the-board competencies and adherence to a code of conduct for paralegals working with solicitors.

Read more here.

The post also notes events in the rest of Great Britain and in Ontario, both of which have been discussed here several times. (See the “Canada” and “International Paralegalism categories.):

The issue is also important in the context of the debate sparked by my previous blog on the imbalance between the number of law students and available training contracts and pupillages, as many of those unable to progress their legal training are instead taking paralegal roles.

Though in essence they are people doing legal work without a full legal qualification, a core problem is that there is no accepted definition of what a paralegal is. This is why nobody knows how many there are, but applying a broad definition there are probably an awful lot, because many roles have a legal advice element. While the Scots are focusing on paralegals employed by solicitors, perhaps of greater concern are paralegals flying solo and unregulated in areas of legal practice that are not reserved for qualified lawyers. Will-writers, for example, are in effect paralegals.

In Ontario, Canada, the government has forced the provincial law society to take on the regulation of paralegals. They only need a licence if appearing before a court or tribunal, but it sets an example that Finland – the most liberal jurisdiction on earth in terms of who can provide legal services – is to follow. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Legal Services Board has yet to really address the issue here, and there is no sign of them doing so.

There is some solace in the notion that the paralegal profession is facing the similar challenges in many countries and there is much to be gained by following developments in each of these countries. However, there is also much to be gained by taking the lead rather than waiting.  I have previously suggested that a joint commission of the ABA, AAfPE, and the major paralegal associations be established to deal with issues such as certification. This joint effort of the Scottish Paralegal Association and the Law Society of Scotland indicates there is some merit to that suggestion.

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