Paralegals to play more important role

LAW firms are expected to increase the number of paralegals they employ by 18 percent over the next five years according to research by Skills for Justice. A survey conducted by the not-for-profit skills organisation found that legal employers would increase the number of people taking on paralegal functions from an average of 42 per firm to 49 per firm by 2017.

And with Skills for Justice working with employers to develop a recognised apprenticeship framework underpinned by National Occupational Standards (NOS) for paralegals, 83 percent of firms said they would be interested in taking on apprentices in this sector.

This is great timing as Skills for Justice in partnership with CILEx, Pearson and Damar Training recently secured nearly £1 million pounds from Government to develop a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services which will be perfect for school leavers.

Alan Woods OBE, Chief Executive, Skills for Justice, said: “It is important that we give employers the opportunity to tell us the benefits people employed as paralegals bring to their business and how they see the future for this area of the legal sector.

“This research has highlighted some very interesting findings for us. We look forward to working in partnership with employers and our partners to create recognised paralegal apprenticeships, and increase opportunities for young people to develop careers in law.”

The 51 firms surveyed, including some of the Top 10 firms in the UK, told Skills for Justice they employed a total of 2,143 paralegals – however by 2017 this number is projected to rise to 2,522.

The business area that currently employs the highest number of paralegals is personal injury civil litigation, with 48 per cent of organisations saying they employed paralegals in this field. This was followed by domestic property conveyancing at 43.5 per cent, commercial property conveyancing (37 per cent) and debt recovery at 37 per cent. Over the next two years employers expect wills, trusts and administration of estates to become another big area for paralegals.

Having completed the first set of draft National Occupational Standards in June, Skills for Justice has just launched a six week national consultation on them which will underpin all apprenticeships.  The consultation will run until August 6.

 Employers surveyed said the majority of apprentices they employed were in Business Administration – however, after the development and approval of the paralegal framework, firms expect to employ hundreds of apprentices.

 The first commercial paralegal national apprentices are expected to be employed in July 2013.

Industry to benefit from government funding for new Legal Services Higher Apprenticeship

Led by Pearson in Practice with The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), Damar Training and Skills for Justice the legal services industry has secured almost £1m of Government funding to create 750 Higher Apprenticeships by March 2015.

The Higher Apprenticeship will offer work-based learning qualifications such as a Level 4 Competence Qualification, Functional Skills, as well as knowledge-based, technical qualifications equivalent to a Foundation Degree.

With the increasing demand for talented and qualified paralegals, added to the well-published increase in tuition fees likely to see a more competitive market for graduates, the Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services will target young people with enthusiasm for a paralegal career but who have chosen not to pursue a degree. The program is expected to attract hundreds of new, young and talented people to the industry – the talent that the employers previously could have missed out on.

Fiona McBride, CEO of Pearson in Practice, said: “We welcome the Government’s continued emphasis on higher level Apprenticeships as a true and credible alternative to university education and are pleased to be able to bring this into the legal services sector.  It reveals what we believe is a shift  in public opinion about the value of vocational learning and demonstrates a widespread understanding of the important role that Apprenticeships play in setting young people on the path towards not just a job, but a sustainable and fulfilling career.”

Diane Burleigh, Chief Executive of CILEx, said: “We’re delighted to receive approval for this project. It will extend our ability to support law firms to invest in their future and current employees by capitalizing on the skills and qualifications they already have. It will offer paralegals greater opportunities for career development. It will support the quality assurance of legal services.  We very much look forward to working on this exciting new opportunity for vocational learning in law with our partners.”

Jonathan Bourne, Managing Director of Damar Training, commented: “The qualification will be designed to meet the needs of the growing paralegal workforce and allows firms to fully integrate apprenticeships into their paralegal career structures. It will create exciting opportunities for many bright, ambitious people who will then go on to generate real value for their employers and clients.”

Alan Woods OBE, Chief Executive, Skills for Justice, said:“We are delighted to be working in partnership with CILEx, Pearson In Practice and Damar Training to create 750 higher apprenticeships in the Legal Service sector. We feel this project will be a game changer in terms of how firms recruit and retain talent to deliver high quality legal services and remain competitive in these difficult economic times. The opportunities this will deliver for young people wanting to enter the sector straight from school is unprecedented.”

The new level 4 Higher Apprenticeship will help firms recruit and develop, the knowledge and skills of their paralegals who have either already completed levels 2 and 3 or are non-law graduates. Specialist technical pathways will be created, including personal injury, commercial litigation and debt recovery.