The Law Society of Scotland Registered Paralegal Scheme
Background and History
Our aim to recognise and promote paralegals by setting standards and defining a career path has been the driving force which has resulted in the creation of the Law Society of Scotland Registered Paralegal scheme in association with the Scottish Paralegal Association (SPA).
In 1997 SPA was recognised as the professional body representing and promoting the interests of paralegals by the Law Society of Scotland. The Society provided guidance, for example, in devising a grading structure for our members. Most significantly their support ensured awareness of SPA throughout the legal profession. As employment of paralegals continued to increase so did our membership. What was clear from our members, that whilst recognition by the Society was an achievement, there remained much dispute and confusion as to what defines a paralegal. Although there are a number of terms used to describe what we recognise as a paralegal, the definition remains constant. That is, any legal work undertaken by a person under supervision of a solicitor which would otherwise be undertaken by a solicitor. To undertake such legal work experience is essential and qualifications are recommended.
SPA has firmly believed for many years that not only should the role of paralegal be promoted and that paralegals should gain the recognition they deserve, but that consistent and high standards are an absolute necessity to their integrity and respect as an emerging profession. Our Association seeks to set standards but does not protect the term 'paralegal'. It promotes qualifications and CPD but does not define a career path. Our membership wanted to see that change. We approached the Law Society of Scotland and proposed that they consider a structure of regulation for the paralegal profession and we were delighted to receive their full support. This was an entirely new project for the Society but SPA believed their role as the regulatory body for solicitors in Scotland would bring authority, expertise and experience necessary to ensure success of such a scheme.
In May 2008 the Law Society of Scotland, in association with SPA, undertook the first consultation on the creation of a regulated status for paralegals in Scotland. Anyone with an interest in the Scottish legal profession was invited to respond by the end of July 2008 and over 400 did. These responses were used to inform and guide what employers, paralegals and the public wanted and expected from such a structure. The credit crunch followed shortly after. The housing market along with banks collapsed and the legal profession, often immune to the worse impact of previous recessions, was badly affected. In such a difficult climate the Society and SPA agreed to put the scheme on hold.
Delays, as a result of the economic downturn was unavoidable, however, work by the Society and SPA continued in the background. Responses were considered and incorporated and the practicalities of devising such a scheme commenced. The question was when was the right time to launch the scheme? Is there a 'right time' and what of all the work to date? The Council of the Law Society considered this and decided to proceed with a voluntary scheme of registration for paralegals. We were delighted when the second and final consultation on a set of policy proposals entitled 'The Registered Paralegal' a professional status for paralegals in Scotland, regulated by the Law Society of Scotland was launched in December 2009.
This consultation incorporated the earlier responses and also took account of the changing market and profession. The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, just then published, sought to widen the legal services market and allow non-lawyers to own entities delivering legal services. This legislation would potentially remove the restriction on paralegals owning such entities. Whilst application to what was to become the Registered Paralegal scheme is voluntary it was clear that the market would continue to change and this could be an important first step towards formal regulation. This consultation also set out how the scheme would be introduced in stages.
Stages of the Registered Paralegal Scheme
The scheme was introduced over 3 stages. Stage 1, launched on 16 August 2010, recognised that there was already an established paralegal market and many of those who were members of associations, such as SPA or The Society of Specialist Paralegals, could demonstrate that they already met the criteria set by the scheme. That is, adherence to a code of conduct, meeting CPD requirements and holding a relevant qualification. Any paralegal who was not a member of an association but believed they met the criteria set, could apply at Stage 2 which commenced in November 2010 and ran for one year. The third and final stage is the full route and requires all applicants to hold a relevant qualification and undertake a traineeship for one year. Stage 3 opened in August 2011. All successful applicants, having undergone the traineeship, will on completion be accepted as a Law Society of Scotland Registered Paralegal. Members are issued with an annual Certificate and their names are included on a Register held by the Society.
A great amount of consideration was given as to what type of legal work a paralegal should be qualified to undertake. It was noted that most, if not all paralegals, qualified and specialised in a certain area of law unlike solicitors who are qualified to practice in all areas of law albeit they too often specialise. Groups were set up to consider the basic skills all paralegals would require, for example ethics and research. The Groups then considered what was the necessary skills and knowledge required in a specific area of law. As a new and untested scheme it was decided to introduce 5 domains (areas of law) initially and develop further domains as demand arose. Application can be made to more than one domain in recognition that some paralegals work in more than one area of law or may choose to change the type of law they work in. The first domains introduced included conveyancing, debt recovery, liquor licensing, criminal litigation and wills and executries. New domains continue to be introduced. If you are interested in applying to an area of law for which a domain has not yet been introduced please go to the Registered Paralegal pages at the Law Society website.
A great number of people and organisations have been instrumental in bringing this scheme to fruition and SPA would again extend their appreciation to all who took part.
The Society and SPA wanted to formally mark the occasion of the scheme launch and acknowledge the effort and contributions of some of the key stakeholders. We were therefore delighted to be able to hold a reception at the Scottish Parliament on 22 September 2010 to mark the occasion.
"Bill Aitken MSP invites you, on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland, to a reception at the Scottish Parliament to mark the commencement of The Law Society of Scotland Registered Paralegal Scheme, in association with the Scottish Paralegal Association.
The Law Society of Scotland Registered Paralegal Scheme, in association with SPA, seeks to define and credit the role of highly qualified paralegals in Scotland and set new, high standards for the new 'Registered Paralegal'. The aim is to support paralegals, the solicitors who employ them, and the public.
The Society wishes to thank you for your contribution to the Scheme's development. I hope that you can join us for this event, at which Bill Aitken MSP will welcome you and introduce the Cabinet Secretary for Justice who will say a few words, followed by some words from the Society."
The Law Society of Scotland and SPA were joined by a variety of guests which included past SPA presidents, members of the Standing Committee, Stage 1 applicants, and some of the many individuals, organisations and employers which supported the scheme.
The Future of the Scheme
Our membership has raised the issue of differing levels of Registered Paralegal recognising experience and qualifications. Interest in a 'senior' Registered Paralegal was also noted in the consultation responses. The scheme is very much in its infancy at present but we will continue to monitor the uptake and success with a view to broaching this with the Law Society in the future.
Although much of the documentation originally referred to a scheme of 'regulation' this was subsequently amended to 'registration'. The scheme in place is that of voluntary registration and membership is not a statutory requirement. The Society does not at present have the power to regulate paralegals. To change this position would require amendment to Statute. With this in mind, SPA met with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr Kenny MacAskill at Holyrood in February 2010 to discuss the government's view on formal recognition for paralegals. It was an ideal opportunity to promote our and the Society's work on the scheme which was commended and encouraged to continue. It was indicated that before statutory legislation might be considered we must demonstrate the success of the scheme in membership numbers. We are therefore pleased to note the positive uptake so far and hope that continues. Other aspects driving towards formal regulation for paralegals will be The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. It will change delivery of legal services and has certainly focused attention on the regulation of those working in the legal profession as a result. It is therefore all the more important that the public and employers can have confidence that the person dealing with their transaction is regulated as competent, able and fit to do so.
For further information on the Registered Paralegal scheme including details on application under existing or new domains please go the Law Society of Scotland paralegal pages which can be located under 'Members'.