By Amanda Hamilton, above, CEO, National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
If our place of business has a leaky pipe or electrical issues, we call either a plumber or electrician. It is relatively simple to find such skilled tradespeople, and we can get referrals from colleagues, business associates, friends, relatives, or neighbours. However, when it comes to legal matters, most of us are not knowledgeable about who to turn to, as it is not an everyday occurrence.
For those running a business, legal assistance can be required for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) business contracts, if money is owed to (or by) the business, or if there is an employment matter. Finding assistance from an appropriate person can be a challenge. And then there is the issue of affording their fees?
You can locate a solicitor by going on the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) website and checking the solicitors register. Solicitors charge anywhere between £250 -£500 per hour.
If you are unable to afford the fees of a solicitor, then you can look elsewhere for assistance. For example, just as there could be free legal assistance included with your house insurance or your car insurance, you may find that any professional or business membership you have may well also include free legal advice; always check this.
Another way to reduce costs if the necessity of going to court is imminent, is to instruct a barrister directly. Barristers are the specialist advocates. In other words, they will not only be able to give you a good assessment of the merit or otherwise of your case, but they can appear in court if necessary to represent you.
Traditionally, barristers could only be instructed by solicitors if the client’s case warranted a specialised overview and/or if they were a requirement to appear in court. The client would therefore have to pay two sets of fees. Now, consumers can go directly to a barrister as long as they are registered as public access or direct access barristers. It is just a question of searching online and finding pages of barristers to suit the circumstances. Barristers generally charge from £150 – £300 per hour for a junior and £350 – £600 per hour for a senior.
If you are having trouble locating a barrister, you could check their ‘chambers’ status. Every barrister has to work from a set of chambers and each chambers has a reputation in a certain area of law. As with most solicitors’ law firms, barristers’ chambers also have a ranking system.
Another less costly avenue to finding help and assistance is to search for a licensed paralegal. While paralegals are not solicitors and the paralegal sector is not regulated in the same way as solicitors, they are nevertheless trained and educated in law, legal practice, and procedures. Some may even be retired solicitors or non-practising barristers. The National Paralegal Register is a place to search for such individuals; generally, paralegals will charge an acceptable hourly rate (£30-£80 per hour depending on what work is required). Please make sure that you check the credentials of any potential paralegal that you may instruct to ensure that they are affiliated with an appropriate membership organisation, such as NALP, the National Association of Licensed Paralegals.
Paralegals cannot undertake ‘reserved activities’ such as conducting litigation and having an automatic right of audience. This means that they cannot receive or send correspondence (as an agent) to or from either the court or the other party on their clients’ behalf nor can they represent you in court and advocate on your behalf without special permission from the court. Nevertheless, they can draft letters and assist in completion of forms for their clients as long as the clients themselves sign and submit them. They can also guide you through the court process and give advice if you decide to represent yourself as a litigant in person (LIP).
In addition to this there are ‘pro-bono’ units. These can be found all around the country and are made up of legal professionals (solicitors, barristers, paralegals) who offer their services for free. Citizens Advice Bureau and legal centres are also included amongst these.
Finally, there is a website online called ‘Legal Choices’ which clearly sets out the type of lawyers both regulated and unregulated, what work they can assist you with and how to make an informed choice.
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 around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.