The Law Society has delayed the launch of its paralegal accreditation scheme, Legal Futures has learned.
We revealed in May  that the society’s ruling council was told that the scheme – aimed at non-qualified staff working in organisations regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority – was scheduled to go live in autumn 2013.
However, last week Chancery Lane instead began a survey of employers of paralegals and paralegals themselves to get a better understanding of the sector, such as where paralegals are employed, what type of work they are doing, and how employers’ workforce needs are changing.
A spokeswoman explained that at the time the report to council was written, “the project team had not been able to digest fully the results of the research which had been carried out earlier in the year.
“That research showed that there was an appetite among employers for the Law Society to become more engaged in this area, which was encouraging, but it also led to further questions about the nature and extent of our engagement, hence the investment in the additional research which we are currently undertaking. We believe that this will prove to be time well spent.”
The research will look at whether there are services short of accreditation that the society could provide, such as training. The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) final report recommended that there should be paralegal career pathways and a voluntary register, “and the research will help to inform our response”, the society said.
It now does not expect to determine the way forward until the spring of next year.
The initial intention was that accreditation would be available to the many thousands of staff in legal practice from secretaries to those with an LLB or LLB/LPC and no training contract. The aim was to drive up standards and provide recognition to these employees.
The society is behind its counterpart in Scotland, which in 2010 launched the ‘registered paralegal scheme’ in association with the Scottish Paralegal Association, introducing across-the-board competencies and adherence to a code of conduct for paralegals working with solicitors.
Meanwhile, the Society of Specialist Paralegals – an alumni organisation for graduates of Central Law Training’s paralegal qualification programmes – recently merged into the Institute of Paralegals.
Institute chief executive David Holland said: “We are very excited about the fast-evolving potential for paralegals to become recognised as a distinct group of legal practitioners. This merger confirms our intention to be a major player in that development in both the regulated and unregulated legal sectors.”