There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of paralegals employed by law firms in the last few years and all the signs are that this trend will continue. Many, including the Legal Education and Training Review, have argued that this burgeoning workforce needs to be regulated and put on a proper professional footing.
However, the Legal Services Board, the supreme oversight body for all branches of the legal profession has come out against regulation of individual paralegals, arguing instead that the firms employing them should have a responsibility for ensuring that they are competent to perform whatever tasks are allocated to them.
The LSB proposals are out for consultation until December, but it seems likely that their view will prevail. This will be disappointing news for paralegals, many of whom are highly skilled and carry significant responsibility. They deserve some proper professional recognition, rather than simply being known as someone who is “not quite” a qualified lawyer.
The LSB, however, is more concerned about risks to consumers than the sensitivities of the workforce and, from that point of view, their position has some logic to it. As virtually all paralegals are employed in law firms (or, increasingly, alternative business structures) which are themselves regulated, there is no real need to impose requirements on the individual employees.
Instead, employers will need to look at their recruitment, training and supervision practices. The professional bodies will be asking them to show that they have proper systems in place to ensure the competence of their paralegal workforce and that they are managing the risks to consumers in a proportionate way. In-house learning and development teams and legal training providers will need to respond with some new thinking and innovative solutions.