There are two branches of the legal profession: Solicitors’ Practices (the GP’s) and Barristers (the Consultants).
A Solicitors’ firm will employ:-
- Qualified solicitors (historically degree level qualified followed by a legal practice course and a 2-year apprenticeship) covering a wide range of legal specialities.
- Professional members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives- CILEX- (qualified in a broad range of legal specialisms, after a lengthy period of tutored training) and
- the (rather nebulous) ‘paralegal’ who may have no legal qualifications at all, save for experience. Those in the Solicitors’ apprenticeship stage are usually called Trainee Solicitors.
Historically, some ‘paralegals’ were referred to as ‘managing clerks’ and might be legally trained through the Solicitors’ and CILEX courses, but for whatever reason had not passed the exams. Many of these at senior level were as capable (if not more so) than some of their qualified colleagues.
Latterly, a ‘paralegal’ may be either someone who has started but not completed a formal legal qualification or (for example) a secretary (when law firms employed secretaries), who showed promise and an ability to accept responsibility in the particular field in which they work.
Other paralegals may be working their way through the CILEX system with ‘way-point’ certificates in specified areas of law and procedure. Or not. There’s a huge range from very competent to frankly dangerous. But until CILEX level is reached the knowledge and experience may be fairly narrow.
Solicitors and CILEX Professional Legal Executives are the most expensive to employ, rightly given the extent and length of the training.
Paralegals are far cheaper (supply and demand). Which is why, post 2013, when the Success Fee recoverability was changed and Fixed Recoverable Costs were introduced, law firms sought economies, one of which was staff costs and a reduction in the number of Solicitors and Professional Legal Executives and an increase in ‘paralegals’ handling the less valuable cases.
This inevitably led to a new way of working, which is set out in Legal Practice.