It is 10 years since the Law Society of Scotland launched a programme to ensure that paralegals in Scotland received the official acknowledgment they deserve for the important role they play in the Scottish legal community. Much has changed in that time.
Unlike “solicitor”, the term “paralegal” is not protected in law. To use the title “accredited paralegal”, however, you must demonstrate legal knowledge and proficiency within a specific practice area, complete at least 10 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year and abide by a code of conduct.
Setting these standards has promoted recognition and respect for the important role accredited paralegals play in the Scottish legal community. Karen Leslie, now convener of the Society’s Accredited Paralegal Committee, who worked alongside the Society in her capacity as joint President of the Scottish Paralegal Association when the scheme was first developed, is proud to have witnessed its continued growth.
Initially, just five practice areas were covered by the scheme: debt recovery; family law; residential conveyancing; criminal law; and wills and executries. Now, 10 years on, a further eight specialisms have been added: reparation law; commercial conveyancing; company secretarial; employment law; liquor licensing; remortgage; repossession litigation; and the most recent addition, financial services – asset management, bringing the total to 13. These developments could not have been achieved without the assistance of paralegals and solicitors who value the role paralegals play in the legal market.
Birth of a practice area
Laura Mack has been a member of the Society’s Accredited Paralegal Committee for a year and a half. Initially obtaining her accreditation in family law in 2015, when Laura moved to work as an in-house paralegal at Baillie Gifford she realised that none of the current practice areas covered her new role. The role of the paralegal has become far more widely recognised throughout the legal profession, both private practice and in-house, since the inception of the Accredited Paralegal scheme. Her new employers were fully supportive of Laura’s work with the Society to create a new practice area: financial services – asset management, the first in-house financial services practice area.
Creating a new practice area is an exciting and challenging project, which the Accredited Paralegal Committee is keen to support and provide guidance on. The process is thorough; the committee needs to be able to consider fully the scope of the new area – ensuring there is no crossover with existing areas – the competencies to be fulfilled, and an indication of the likely demand and takeup of the new area.
Challenges of COVID-19
The legal market, like all markets, has faced considerable challenges as a result of recession, pressures of price, availability, access, diversity and technological advances – and continues to do so. These topics are too weighty to be covered in any depth here, but what can be said is that the modern-day accredited paralegal is invaluable to legal service providers, in private practice and in-house, enabling them to meet those challenges and ensure they continue to provide quality, specialist services to employers and clients alike.
The latest challenge, COVID-19, has brought significant changes. The minimum CPD requirement for the 2019-20 practice year has been suspended, although we strongly encourage our members to undertake CPD where you can and complete any required training where possible. A considerable amount of legislation, permanent and temporary, has been introduced in the last six months and it is important that we keep up to date with these changes in this challenging time. We have all become familiar with the various platforms for hosting virtual meetings, and there is a wide choice of free webinars and remote CPD sessions and workshops available, enabling us to keep our knowledge and skills up to date, while adhering to the restrictions. Keep your eye on social media, your email inbox and the Society’s website for updates on what is available.
There have certainly been highs and lows during lockdown, but the legal profession has adapted well to remote working. Necessity, being the mother of invention, has seen Registers of Scotland and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service introduce welcome measures allowing documentation to be received electronically, and the ability to have documents witnessed online has greatly assisted when dealing with vulnerable clients.
Furloughing and the prospects of redundancy have certainly been tough. Some of your colleagues may be living alone and struggling with the loss of interaction in the physical workplace. For others, sharing the diningroom table/spare room/any space you can find with significant others and small ones certainly has ups and downs, although now the kids are back to school, many of us will be breathing a sigh of relief!
For those who ordinarily commute, the time recovered enables a better balance between chargeable hours and quality of life. Internal virtual meetings do work, but is it the same as collaborating, or chatting with colleagues around the kettle? (We could say “water cooler”, but this is Scotland!)
As we continue to adapt to all of the changes, it is perhaps more important than ever that we look after our own wellbeing and look out for each other. As members of the Society, accredited paralegals have access to various resources which will help us do just that.
Developed in collaboration with NHS Scotland, LawCare, SeeMe, SAMH and other mental health charities, Lawscot Wellbeing is a dedicated online resource that provides help and guidance for members and employers. And of course, the Law Society Mentoring programme provides an online platform enabling you to reach out and get the additional career support you are looking for – or indeed offer the benefit of your skills and experience to someone else.
It is fair to say the modern-day accredited paralegal has many skills to offer and is a valuable and integral part of the legal services market. It will be interesting to follow the changes and challenges the next 10 years will bring to the Accredited Paralegal scheme and the legal profession as a whole.
In the meantime, and in the absence of physical meetings with our paralegal colleagues, we are keen to nurture our online community and would love to hear from you. If you have an idea for a news update, a new practice area, blog, online event, or you would like to become accredited, please do drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Twitter at @AccParalegalLSS.
Karen Leslie is convener, and Laura Mack a member, of the Law Society of Scotland’s Accredited Paralegal Committee
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