By Amanda Hamilton, National Association of Licensed Paralegals
As an SME, having a legal problem is particularly stressful. The chances are that you don’t have legal expertise within your team and you are all trying to perform your own roles within the organisation. The obvious choice is to outsource and, invariably, the first thing that springs to mind is a solicitor.
However, the cost of using a solicitor can be financially prohibitive and not within the reach of most pockets. Solicitors charge fees of anywhere between £150 per hour to £600 + per hour. They can even charge you £500 for writing a letter on your behalf.
But don’t despair! A large percentage of legal matters can be dealt with by non-solicitors.
Recently, the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation by Professor Stephen Mayson, stated that a survey of statutorily regulated lawyers (solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives) confirmed that only 20% of the work they do falls within the remit of reserved legal activities (i.e. meaning that they are reserved for solicitors, barristers and legal executives only to perform). Translated to layman’s terms, this means that 80% of all other legal work can be carried out by non-solicitors.
Here are three alternatives:
Of course it does depend on the legal issue, but in many cases, finding a mediator will assist you and your opponent to resolve the issues you may have, and is far less costly than instructing a solicitor. Mediators are trained to help and guide the parties to understand and focus on the main issues in order to find a satisfactory solution acceptable to both parties.
2. McKenzie friends
A McKenzie friend is usually a person who will accompany you to court if you are attending as a litigant in person (LIP). Because you are not represented by a solicitor or barrister a McKenzie friend can give advice and support but, more often than not, will have no legal qualifications but will have experience of court matters. They can be either family members or friends accompanying you to court for moral support, or can be volunteers from charitable organisations. Quite often McKenzie friends do not charge fees but it is currently a growing trend for them to charge a nominal amount to assist you in this way.
Apart from offering you moral support, McKenzie friends can also take notes during any court proceedings, and give advice and help on completing court forms and the court process.
A paralegal practitioner is distinguished from a McKenzie friend since they usually will have a legal or paralegal qualification and may have a Licence to Practise. Therefore, there is often a fee to pay but not as excessive as that of a solicitor. On the whole the fees that paralegals charge are anywhere between £40 - £80 per hour, or perhaps a fixed fee for carrying out a specific task or job.
The kind of cases that you can call upon a paralegal to assist you with are varied and cover a broad spectrum. In fact, a paralegal practitioner can assist with most cases that a solicitor can as long as they do not perform any ‘Reserved Activities’. These activities are solely for solicitors and in some cases, barristers to perform, and include having an automatic ‘right of audience’. This means that solicitors and barristers have an automatic right to represent clients in court and speak on their behalf. This right is not granted to paralegals or McKenzie friends. However, in some instances, the Judge in a particular court case, can grant such a right, at his/her discretion, provided s/he is satisfied in respect of the competency of the paralegal/McKenzie friend and believe it in the best interests of justice to do so.
Paralegals are not able to act on your behalf to sell or purchase property or land unless they are Licensed through the CLC (Council for Licensed Conveyancers), nor can they offer immigration advice unless they are registered with the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner).
Making the right choice
Paralegals and McKenzie friends are not regulated by statute in the same way as solicitors and barristers are. This means that anyone can refer to themselves as such. However, there are organisations that are voluntary regulators such as NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals) or The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, that have strict codes of conduct that members must follow. If choosing to use a paralegal or McKenzie friend it is always advisable to ensure they are members of such a body.
For further information on alternatives to using a solicitor please go to the Legal Choices website: https://www.legalchoices.org.uk/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 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). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.