Indeed, Meghan Markle plays Rachel Zane, who works as a paralegal. But what is the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor?
Paralegals are not qualified solicitors, but they are trained to carry out legal tasks and can offer legal assistance, doing pretty much everything a solicitor can do bar what are known as Reserved Activities. However, even within these, a paralegal can play an important role.
Representation in court
The difference between a paralegal and a solicitor is that solicitors have an automatic right to represent you in most courts, paralegals do not. However, if you represent yourself (this is known as being a litigant in person), a paralegal can assist and advise you.
Paralegals cannot conduct your case and are unable to file documents at court or make applications on your behalf. However, paralegals can assist a litigant in person.
Conveyancing (buying/selling property)
It is possible for a paralegal to do this, but they must be Licensed by the Council of Licensed Conveyancers.
When someone dies, an official document known as a Grant of Probate is required in order to distribute the gifts in the Will. A solicitor can sign such documents on your behalf but a paralegal cannot. But if you opt to go through the process without engaging a solicitor, a paralegal can assist you.
While there are these few restrictions in the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, paralegals operate in a broad spectrum of legal areas, with the most common involving money.
If you are taken to court by someone claiming that you owe them money, or if you need to take someone to court, a paralegal can help you to navigate the legal processes.
If you need assistance at an employment tribunal, or with housing or welfare matters, or if you need to write a Will or obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney, a paralegal can help (remembering the limitations of the Reserved Activities).
Paralegals can also offer assistance with matrimonial matters, and many paralegals are Police Station Accredited, meaning that you can call on them if you have been arrested for a minor criminal offence.
With the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, a solicitor can do all of that for you too, though you can expect a significant bill: on average, solicitors charge over £200 per hour, while the average hourly rate for a paralegal is between £20-£50 per hour. A huge difference.
But before rushing to pass your legal business to a paralegal, be aware that there is no statutory regulation for paralegals in the same way as there is for solicitors.
When considering the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, and using the services of a paralegal, ask about their qualifications and experience, and check that they are a member of a professional body, such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP). And remember that there are different laws, procedures, paperwork and professional bodies in Scotland.
Paralegals can greatly reduce bills, either by helping you deal with legal matters yourself, or by completing the early stages of a legal issue before bringing in a solicitor.
This has been important for many people since 2013, following the types of cases covered by legal aid being greatly reduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
There are other low-cost and free options available to you if you need legal help:
- Citizens Advice is a charity-run organisation with offices nationwide. Their Bureaux include many paralegals giving their time as volunteers.
- Another difference between a paralegal and a solicitor, Law Centres are largely operated by volunteers (again, mostly paralegals) usually supervised by a solicitor. Law Centres are not as widely available as Citizens Advice.
- Law clinics are becoming popular with universities as their undergraduate law students can take up the opportunity to work with clients and practice their skills. Locations of Law Clinics tend to be restricted to being near Universities.
- Pro-Bono is a term you’ll have heard on many legal dramas on TV, and real-life solicitors and barristers do have their own units offering free advice to consumers. However, these units are increasingly over-utilised.
If you decide you need paralegal assistance, there are two registers:
- LPR (Licensed Paralegal Register) organised through NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). You can find a paralegal by location, name or area of law.
- PPR (Professional Paralegal Register). Similar to the above in that you can find someone by location, area of law or name.
So, the difference between a paralegal and a solicitor? You don’t need to head to the New York offices of Pearson, Spector, Litt and ask for Rachel Zane; there are paralegals near you who can carry out work you may have previously believed was the preserve of solicitors.
And they will provide their assistance at a fraction of the cost. Remember, using a paralegal doesn’t prevent you engaging a solicitor later if necessary. Just bear in mind the Reserved Activities, and be prepared for them to not be able to introduce you to the world’s favourite royal redhead.
Amanda Hamilton is chief executive of NALP, a non-profit paralegal membership body