By Jane Robson, CEO, National Association of Licensed Paralegals
With the overhaul of the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard being completed this year, is now the right time to take on, or become, a Paralegal Apprentice?
Working in a legal profession has often been seen as something for the ‘elite’. An individual entering one of the more traditional legal professions, such as a barrister or solicitor would often be following in their forefather’s footsteps. Being honest there was a lot of snobbery around the profession, both real and perceived, and it is well documented that the traditional legal professions lacked diversity and did not reflect those they were representing.
In recent years, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) have sought to address this particular issue of inequality and lack of diversity. Just as they had previously noted that ethnic and gender equality was extremely beneficial to the sector, they recognised that having legal professionals from all walks of life brings similar benefits and this led to the first legal apprenticeships – the Higher Apprenticeships in Legal Services – being introduced in 2013.
In his speech on reforming legal education in 2012, the then Supreme Court President, Lord Neuberger, estimated the overall cost of entering the legal profession through university at around £100,000 including living expenses, highlighting the inherent threat that such high costs present to the diversity of the professionals in that sector and the importance of alternate routes.
He stated: “A less diverse profession is an impoverished one, one less able to reflect and support a flourishing democracy committed to the rule of law”.
The new apprenticeships brought new options to those who had exited formal education without going on to higher education, but who wanted to work in Law and were put off by those high costs, particularly when they were not guaranteed a job at the end of it. After the success of the initial apprenticeships four ‘Trailblazer apprenticeships’ were set up in England in 2016, replacing the earlier ones. Not least of these was the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard which continues to grow in popularity, despite a few hiccups when it was first launched, including the End Point Assessment Organisation, CILEX, being sanctioned by Ofqual in 2019 following major issues with the first assessments in 2018.
Coming to the present day and the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard was extensively reviewed and completely overhauled, bringing many improvements designed to give the apprentices a great foundation on which to build a career as a Professional Paralegal. As part of the review, those of use on the Trail Blazer Group looking at how it could be improved were keen to ensure that it covered new technologies. Whilst the days of a paralegal combing through legal tomes have diminished significantly since the advent of the internet era, now there are even more tools that can be used to assist them in their research tasks. The new Standard also takes into account the fact that, with greater cyber-based tools, comes a greater need to be aware of cyber security.
In addition to the expansion of topics covered, the choice of End Point Assessment Organisations has also increased with more EPAOs approved to deliver the End Point Assessment for the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard. One of those new End Point Assessment Organisations is NALP (The National Association of Licensed Paralegals), the UK’s oldest established professional membership body for paralegals. With the new Standard having been signed off by the Department for Education, NALP will be able to take on enrolments for the new Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard from 1st August 2023.
There are also moves being made to encourage smaller firms to take on apprentices. In-house legal teams can benefit from having a paralegal apprentice, as can small specialist firms, such as probate research or those offering Wills and succession planning services, many of whom may be wholly staffed by paralegals.
One of the many positives of paralegals undergoing an apprenticeship is that they get real-world experience of dealing with legal matters and even, in some cases, with clients. Paralegals are the fastest growing profession within the legal sector, so this experience can make the knowledge and qualifications gained during their apprenticeship invaluable to other potential employers, enhancing their transferable skills and opening more doors for them.
One of those doors being opened is for those who wish to offer services directly to clients as Professional Paralegal Practitioners. Since the virtual eradication of legal aid, more and more individuals have found themselves acting as Litigants in Person when facing a legal issue and paralegals have been in demand to provide the advice and guidance they need to deal with their legal problems. Having well-trained Professional Paralegal Practitioners is vital to ensure that such Litigants in Person have access to justice at a reasonable cost.
Having shown their worth Apprenticeships are here to stay. They open doors to those for whom working in the legal sector might otherwise have been an unachievable dream.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane Robson is CEO 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.