The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) yesterday launched an enquiry into paralegals in an attempt to clarify their numbers, where they fit in the legal spectrum, and what training should be made available.
The enquiry reflects a push by CILEx to assert a leadership role in an area of the legal employment market that is widely expected to grow over the next decade.
Research will include roundtables in the autumn and a variety of other information-gathering techniques, including focus groups and social media.
Announcing the enquiry at an event in London, CILEx president Stephen Gowland said the institute had been prompted to undertake the research by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR). A consolidation of existing research was required, he argued.
He raised concerns that paralegals would be used as “cogs in a machine” to do boring, repetitive work. CILEx wanted to provide “opportunity and career progression” to a generation of paralegals looking for “interest, making a difference, input, change, flexibility, more work/life balance than money… training… recognition and progression”.
Mr Gowland highlighted the positive commitment of Riverview Law to “train their own lawyers from the ground up” and the employers who sponsored 60% of CILEx students.
He acknowledged there were problems with the definition of what is a paralegal, but estimated that CILEx has about 12,500 paralegals in its membership, including students, affiliates, associates and graduates who were working in the legal aid field.
He said the enquiry aimed to consolidate different estimates on the number of paralegals, one of which – by the Office of National Statistics and the register of Standard Occupational Classification – was that there were 76,000 ‘legal associate professionals’. Meanwhile, the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank had forecast the figure would grow by 17% in the next decade.
He concluded: “You might say, and understandably so, that given CILEx is the largest membership association for paralegals, with the only independent regulatory body for them, we ought to know some, if not all of the answers…
“We want to be able to reach out more fully into the sector, to encourage the professionalisation of those working in the sector in whatever capacity or at whatever level.
“Because CILEx uniquely offers qualifications, regulation, professionalisation and progression through membership, it is imperative that CILEx really understands the future of work in this sector, and so is able to offer the right kinds of qualifications, the right kind of regulation, and the right kind of membership value in order to play its part as a chartered association acting in the public interest…
“We want to deliver knowledge and skills and professionalism in a way that doesn’t date; that can meet the fast-changing requirements of a sector increasingly technology-led, yet still knowledge and skills-led… and people focused – a way that will be appropriate for every type of legal business.”
Meanwhile, the Legal Services Board has on amending the Legal Services Act 2007 so that CILEx’s regulatory arm, ILEX Professional Standards, can set up a compensation fund and have the power to intervene in entities once it becomes an entity regulator. It follows the Lord Chancellor’s approval  of their bid to handle all reserved legal activities independently and without the supervision of a solicitor.