Alternatives to using a solicitor when needing assistance with your legal affairs
By Amanda Hamilton, National Association of Licensed Paralegals
We all need to deal with legal things as we get older and take on more responsibility. Whether you are looking to get your own will together and put in place power of attorney or trusts for the future, or have been called upon to deal with legal proceedings for an older relative, these things can feel like a minefield.
The first and instinctive thing that enters your head is ‘I need help’ and the first person that springs to mind for such help is a solicitor. However, the cost of using a solicitor can be financially prohibitive and not within the reach of most pockets. Solicitors charge fees of anywhere between £150 per hour to £600+ per hour. They can even charge you £500 for writing a letter on your behalf.
It may be a relief for you to hear that a large percentage of legal matters can be dealt with by non-solicitors. These days there are alternatives to consider such as employing the services of a paralegal, mediator or a ‘McKenzie friend’.
Recently, the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation by Professor Stephen Mayson, stated that a survey of statutorily regulated lawyers (solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives) confirmed that only 20% of the work they do falls within the remit of reserved legal activities (i.e. meaning that they are reserved for solicitors, barristers and legal executives only to perform). Translated to layman’s terms, this means that 80% of all other legal work can be carried out by non-solicitors.
A paralegal practitioner will usually have a legal or paralegal qualification and may have a ‘Licence to Practise’. Therefore, there is often still a fee to pay but not as excessive as that of a solicitor. On the whole, the fees that paralegals charge are anywhere between £40-£80 per hour, or perhaps a fixed fee for carrying out a specific task or job.
The kind of cases that you can call upon a paralegal to assist you with are varied and cover a broad spectrum. In fact, a paralegal practitioner can assist with most cases that a solicitor can as long as they do not perform any ‘Reserved Activities’. These activities are solely for solicitors and in some cases, barristers to perform, and include having an automatic ‘right of audience’. This means that solicitors and barristers have an automatic right to represent clients in court and speak on their behalf. This right is not granted to paralegals, although in some instances, the Judge in a particular court case can grant such a right, at their discretion, provided they are satisfied in respect of the competency of the paralegal/McKenzie friend and believe it in the best interests of justice to do so.
Paralegals are not able to act on your behalf to sell or purchase property or land unless they are Licensed through the CLC (Council for Licensed Conveyancers), and if you are dealing with a Grant of Probate, 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 if there is conflict?
Unfortunately, there is always a chance that dealing with legal family issues can end in a disagreement and if that’s not sorted out there could be a legal battle. So, where can you turn if that happens?
Of course it does depend on the issue, but in many cases, finding a mediator will assist you and your ‘opponent’ to resolve the issues you may have, and is far less costly than instructing a solicitor. Mediators are trained to help and guide the parties to understand and focus on the main issues in order to find a satisfactory solution acceptable to both parties.
Even if your issue ends up in court, you can deal with it yourself if it is a relatively small civil claim. To assist you, you can use the services of either a paralegal practitioner or McKenzie friend.
A McKenzie friend is usually a person who will accompany you to court if you are attending as a litigant in person (LIP). Because you are not represented by a solicitor or barrister a McKenzie friend can give advice and support but, more often than not, will have no legal qualifications. But they will have experience of court matters. They can be either family members or friends accompanying you to court for moral support, or can be volunteers from charitable organisations. Quite often McKenzie friends do not charge fees, but it is currently a growing trend for them to charge a nominal amount to assist you in this way.
Apart from offering you moral support, McKenzie friends can also take notes during any court proceedings and give advice and help on completing court forms and the court process.
Make sure you get the right person to help
Paralegals and McKenzie friends are not regulated by statute in the same way as solicitors and barristers are. This means that anyone can refer to themselves as such. However, there are organisations that are voluntary regulators such as NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals) or The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, that have strict codes of conduct that members must follow. If choosing to use a paralegal or McKenzie friend it is always advisable to ensure they are members of such a body.
For further information on alternatives to using a solicitor please go to the Legal Choices website.
About the author
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, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
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