Six steps to starting a paralegal business.
Law firms are increasingly recruiting paralegals as they offer strong, unparalleled support to barristers and solicitors, especially during busy working periods. Here, Amanda Hamilton from NALP, speaks on how you can open your own paralegal business and its benefits.
Now is a good time to start your own paralegal practice, as more and more people are turning to paralegals to help them with a variety of legal issues.
Here are six steps to help you get started:
- Being a paralegal
Paralegals are not statutorily regulated, so you have been told that it is not necessary to gain any training or qualification to carry out paralegal services.
This is technically true, but in practice, it’s not accurate; remember that you are up against a mountain of competitors who will probably be far more qualified than you.
Also, bear in mind that you will be handling delicate legal matters for your clients and therefore you will have to consider the possible consequences if something were to go wrong. Gaining knowledge of academic aw and practice is essential to give you and your client confidence.
Therefore, the very first thing you need to do is gain a paralegal or legal qualification or at the very least get some paralegal training and then, as much experience as possible. This does not have to be with a solicitor or barrister; nowadays you can gain the relevant legal experience by working in a variety of different employment environments: local authorities, national health service, charities, housing associations, HMRC, Crown Prosecution Service and company in-house legal departments.
- Becoming a specialist
Once you have gained some knowledge of law and legal procedure and have three or more years’ relevant legal experience, you need to decide whether you wish to specialise in one area of law or be a general practitioner.
For example, you may have worked in a human resource department of a company and have studied Employment Law – this then may well be the area of law in which you wish to practise.
- Join a paralegal organisation
Clients need to have confidence that you are qualified and competent to offer legal services, therefore consider joining a membership body such as NALP which has been a Paralegal organisation for thirty years and is well established in the legal sector.
Membership of such a body will give your potential client confidence that you know what you are doing. Membership is also confirmation that you have been vetted by the organisation and have to abide by its rules, and can be subject to being sanctioned if not.
Being a member of NALP entitles you, subject to the requisite qualifications and/or experience and fulfillment of eligibility criteria, to apply for a licence to practise in the areas of law in which you can provide evidence of experience. Again, this means that NALP has done its due diligence on you and thoroughly vetted you and your credentials.
Eligibility Criteria to gain a licence to practise:
1) Qualifications: a minimum Level 3 qualification and a minimum of three years’ experience.
2) Experience only: can provide evidence of a minimum of five years’ experience.
3) Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII): covering you for the work that you do.
- Ensure there is no inference in any marketing for your business, whether via a website of Facebook Page, that you are a solicitor or barrister. This is what is known as ‘Holding Out’ and is illegal. In all your marketing you have to make it clear that you are a paralegal and not a solicitor or barrister.
- There are certain activities you are unable to perform. These are ‘reserved activities’ (as defined by S12 of The Legal Services Act 2007). Ensure you do not undertake such activities, making it clear in any contract for services with your client, what this means, and what these activities are.
Apart from the ‘reserved activities’, you can operate in much the same way as a solicitor, e.g. you can operate as a paralegal firm and have partners.
Sole practitioner, partnership or company?
This is entirely up to you, but whatever you choose it’s important to understand the responsibilities and legal duties of each. For example, if you are a company you need to submit company accounts each year. As a sole practitioner, you would need to submit your annual tax return each year and be subject to income tax on your earnings.
Setting up your own paralegal practice can be very rewarding – but do make sure you follow the advice above to give both your clients and yourself the expertise, confidence and protection that you and they deserve.
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced 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 & Wales). Through its training arm, NALP Training, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
NALP is the longest running UK Membership Body for Paralegals. They have dedicated over 30 years to promoting the status of Paralegal Professionals.