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Legal assistance doesn't have to break the bank; Amanda Hamilton explains the differences between solicitors and paralegals - and why the latter may be able to help with your legal issues.

Byline: Amanda Hamilton

Do you have a legal issue? The chances are your first instinct is to look up local solicitors for help. But are they the only option? You may be surprised to hear - not necessarily. It could well be that a paralegal is what you need.

So, what is a paralegal? What's the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and when should you use one? A paralegal is legally trained and educated to perform legal tasks and offer legal assistance but is not a qualified solicitor. However, a paralegal can do virtually everything that a solicitor can, except activities that are referred to as reserved activities, which we'll cover later.

Unlike solicitors, there's no statutory regulation for paralegals, so it's important to ask for evidence of the paralegal's qualifications and experience, and check they are a member of a professional body such as the NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals).

So when might you use the services of a paralegal? | If you have been arrested for a minor criminal offence and need representation. Many paralegals are police station accredited, meaning they can be called out to assist you at a police station.

| If you need assistance in a matrimonial matter.

| If you wish to take action against your employer through a tribunal.

| To assist in writing a will or to obtain a lasting power of attorney in respect of a relative.

| If someone takes you to court claiming you owe them money and you need to defend yourself.

| If you need assistance in taking someone to court.

| To assist in a housing matter.

| To assist with any welfare matter.

The above is not a definitive list, as there is a broad spectrum of legal areas in which paralegals operate, but it covers some of the most common situations.

As all of the above can also be handled by a solicitor, why would you choose to use a paralegal? Cost. Using the services of solicitors can be expensive. Solicitors charge on average over PS200 per hour and some, more senior ones, will charge nearer to PS300 per hour. On average, paralegals charge between PS20 and PS50 per hour for their services.

There is no Legal Aid anymore. Before April 2013 you could get funding to bring a case to court or defend an action against you. This has now been eradicated for all but a few cases. Paralegals are filling the gap left by the removal of Legal Aid.

There are occasions where a paralegal may assist you up to a point, and then you may need the services of a solicitor, for example, if the case is serious and cannot be resolved, and will eventually end up in court. However, for the most part a paralegal can assist you in dealing with the case yourself.

There are some activities that paralegals cannot undertake. These are known as reserved activities. | Solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts.

However, paralegals can assist and advise you if you do need to represent yourself as a litigant in person (LIP) and in some cases, subject to the judge's discretion, they can get permission to speak on your behalf. | Conduct litigation. Paralegals cannot conduct your case and are unable to file documents at court and make applications on your behalf. However, paralegals can assist you to do this yourself as a LIP. | Conveyancing - for example, buying and selling property on your behalf. Paralegals can do this but only if they are licensed by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers. | When someone dies. If they have left a will leaving gifts to various beneficiaries such as family and friends, an official document known as a grant of probate needs to be attained in order to distribute the gifts in the will. A paralegal cannot sign such documents on your behalf, but you can do so yourself and the paralegal can assist you through the process.

What other low-cost and free options are available to you if you need legal help? You can make use of a number of free services like Citizens Advice, law centres and pro-bono units.

| Citizens Advice is a charity-run organisation with franchises all over the country. The bureaux are headed up mostly by volunteers (many of whom are paralegals) with a minority of paid workers. The bureaux are overworked and understaffed. | Law centres. These are largely operated by volunteers (mostly paralegals) usually supervised by a solicitor. They are not as widely located as Citizens Advice.

| Law clinics are now becoming popular with universities in order to give their undergraduate law students an opportunity to work with clients and practise their skills. However, law clinics are not found everywhere and are usually only locally located near universities. | Pro-bono units. Both solicitors and barristers have their own units offering free advice to consumers. However, these units are increasingly over-utilised and, as a result, there is pressure placed upon the respective professions to increase the amount of time dedicated to probono work.

If you do need the help of a paralegal where do you look? There are two registers: | The LPR (Licensed Paralegal Register) organised through NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). You can find a paralegal by location, name or area of law.

| The PPR (Professional Paralegal Register). Similar to the above in that you can find someone by location, area of law or name.

Paralegals can perform many of the tasks where you'd naturally think of using a solicitor, but are considerably cheaper. And you can still bring in a solicitor later if you need to.

| Amanda Hamilton is chief executive of 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 and Wales.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 11, 2017
Words:974
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