Plan to smooth paralegals’ path to CILEx qualification sparks “confusion” claim

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10 December 2015

Leat: proposal would "confuse employers and consumers"

Leat: proposal “muddies the waters”

A proposal by CILEx Regulation (CRL) to make it easier for paralegals to become qualified legal executives has been rejected as likely to cause “confusion to employers and consumers” by the new voluntary paralegals regulator.

In a speech to this week’s Westminster Legal Policy Forum, David Gilbertson, a board member of the legal executives’ regulator, said its next step would be a period of review following completion of its new schemes for CPD and competence assessment of CILEx independent practitioners.

It would include “looking at the possibility of creating streamlined pathways to enable paralegals to become both Chartered Legal Executives and CILEx Practitioners, without the need for unnecessary duplication of evidence where it is appropriate to do so”.

But Rita Leat, managing director of the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR), a voluntary regulation scheme for paralegals launched in July, said: “The [PPR] regulates all paralegals who work in the unregulated sector and already provide the necessary pathways for specialist paralegal practitioners to operate with paralegal practising certificates without the need to become something else [such as] legal executives…

“It would be less of a repetition of efforts if CILEx would engage more with the PPR to offer a greater diversity of opportunity in the sector and enable consumers to access a more cost-effective legal system. It appears to us to be a muddying of the waters that causes confusion to employers and consumers.”

A spokesman for CRL explained that the streamlining of rules for paralegals could include “aligning some of the evidence we require for a practice rights application with the work-based learning portfolio aspiring Chartered Legal Executives must provide. Paralegals seeking lawyer status either as Chartered Legal Executives, or with CILEx practice rights, would therefore not have to duplicate their evidence unnecessarily.”

He added: “Of course, application for practice rights specifically in conveyancing or probate is open to anyone… Our desire is to make our application processes more streamlined without diminishing the high standards we expect of applicants.”

CILEx last year announced an enquiry into paralegals, reflecting a push by the representative body to assert a leadership role in an area of the legal employment market widely expected to grow over the next decade. At the time, CILEx estimated it had about 12,500 paralegals in its membership, including students, affiliates, associates and graduates who were working in the legal aid field.

Separately, CRL this week launched an eight-week consultation on whether it should become a licensing authority for alternative business structures (ABS), claiming it “receives enquiries regularly from organisations seeking to be licensed by it as a licensed body” under the Legal Services Act 2007.

Currently only entities run by Chartered Legal Executives, CILEx Practitioners or other lawyers can be authorised by CRL, but not those with non-lawyer owners or managers.

The consultation said its current inability to licence ABSs “limits growth, consumer choice and innovative delivery of legal services”.

In particular, it said, “the demographic of the community regulated by [CRL] includes a high proportion of females, ethnic minorities and those from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, potentially increasing the market for consumers who may seek legal advice from those closer to their own demographic.”

The consultation closes on 29 January 2016.

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