Starting a new business and keeping it going is a real challenge at the best of times, let alone during the unprecedented times in which we find ourselves. There are many cost consequences to a start-up, not least could be the initial legal requirements. Usually, the first individual we think about to assist us with legal issues is a solicitor. However, solicitors’ fees can be quite prohibitive and far beyond the pockets of most. Hourly rates can be anywhere from £150 to £600. Don’t be tempted to panic because there are other alternatives to using a solicitor who can help.

For example, a paralegal practitioner. Paralegals are trained and educated to perform legal tasks and while they are not qualified solicitors or barristers, many do have legal or paralegal qualifications and/or have many years’ experience. Paralegals can do almost all the things a solicitor can, with the exception of ‘reserved activities’ which do stay the monopoly of solicitors. This includes the ‘right of audience’ meaning that a paralegal doesn’t have an automatic right to represent a client in court in the same way as a solicitor or barrister has. However, this can sometimes be overlooked at the discretion of a judge in a particular case, and is based on the circumstances and whether it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Why Alternatives to Using a Solicitor makes Sense for StartUps

Another reserved activity which is outside the scope of the paralegal, is the right to ‘conduct litigation’. This means that the paralegal cannot write letters on your behalf nor can they get witness statements or file documents at court on your behalf. Nevertheless, a paralegal will be more than able to advise you how to do so yourself and guide you through the process.

Paralegals generally charge in the region of £40-80 per hour or a negotiated fixed fee for doing a particular job, such as draft an employment contract.

There is one drawback about using the services of a paralegal: since the paralegal Profession is not regulated by statute (as solicitors and barristers are) you must be careful to ensure that a paralegal belongs to a recognised professional body such as NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals). NALP has strict codes of practice to which all members must adhere and the organisation has a complaints policy which is readily available for all consumers. NALP also encourages its members that if they wish to offer legal advice and assistance to consumers, they should have a NALP Licence to Practise, as well as PII (Professional Indemnity Insurance).

Paralegals can also be useful to turn to if you have an employment law issue or if you or your business is owed money. There are also many other legal areas that are covered by paralegals including matrimonial issues and consumer law matters.

Another way to settle a dispute is to consider a mediator who are professionals trained to help and guide parties to understand and focus on the main issues in order that they can reach a resolution which is agreeable to both sides. 

You may also come across ‘McKenzie friends’. These individuals are more often than not unqualified in law, (although some may be retired solicitors) but because of their experience of the court procedures, they can guide you through the process by giving moral support and taking notes in court for you. Traditionally, they do not charge for the work they do, although there is now a growing trend to request fees. Again, if you are going to use the services of a McKenzie Friend, you should ensure that they are members of a reputable body such as The Society of McKenzie Friends.

Despite the fact that paralegals are prevented from performing ‘reserved activities’ there are diverse and broad areas of law in which they can obviously practise. Nonetheless, when it comes to Conveyancing transactions (buying and selling property) or matters in relation to offering immigration advice and assistance, they will not be able to do so unless they are licenced through the CLC (Council for Licenced Conveyancers) or a registered immigration adviser through the OISC (Office of Immigration Services Commissioner).

A few months ago, there was a review published about legal services regulation and in it there was a quote from a survey of statutory regulated lawyers (such as solicitors) which stated that only 20% of the work they did fell under the remit of ‘reserved legal activities’ (e.g. that only they could perform) which means that 80% of all legal work can potentially be carried out by non-solicitors.

An interesting statistic, and perhaps one that should be borne in mind when and if you need legal advice and assistance in the future.