Paralegals as competent as trainees, SRA study finds

Paralegals have the same level of competence as final-seat trainees, a work-based learning pilot from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has found.

A work-based learning pilot by Nottingham Trent University, which allows paralegals who have completed the legal practice course (LPC) to bypass training contracts and become solicitors, found that almost all employers felt that candidates from the pilot held the “same skills and competencies as those who have been through the traditional training contract”.

The pilot was carried out in conjunction with the SRA, which controlled the scheme. Half of the scheme involved law firm trainees while the other half involved paralegals with an LPC. Of the paralegals, one third were at local government organisations, one third were at law firms, some of which also employed trainees, and the other third were at other organisations which did not train trainees.

All trainees and paralegals who completed the pilot had to be able to prove that they worked in three areas of law, including contentious and non-contentious disciplines, and had to show that they had achieved 37 prescribed outcomes in client relations, legal knowledge and skills, business awareness, workload management, communication, working with others, personal development and self-awareness and professional conduct.

All 47 successful students who were assessed by Nottingham Trent became entitled to apply to the SRA to become solicitors, as it decided to waive general training requirements in this instance. Of that 47, 81 per cent reported that their salary increased because of the recognition by employers of their competence.

Dean of Nottingham Law School, Professor Andrea Nollent, said “It has changed the way in which people think about what young lawyers learn in the workplace and how their achievements can be recognised.”

Project co-ordinator Professor Jane Ching said: “The fact we have proved that almost 50 people who were working outside the mainstream can show they can perform to the required standard is a huge tribute to their determination and stamina, the support and engagement of their employers and the hours of hard work put in by academic and administrative staff at the law school. They are all heroes”.

The final candidate completed the scheme at the beginning of this month. Developing the pilot scheme now depends on the outcome of the on-going Legal Education and Training Review.

An SRA spokesman said: “The Nottingham candidates have demonstrated a proven level of competence that shows they have the skills to practise as solicitors.

“The work done by Nottingham Law School has played a critical part in our evaluation of the work-based learning pilot and will feed into our policy discussions as we move into the next phase of the Legal Education and Training Review.”

The delayed review is now due to be completed in May but a general publication date has not yet been set (18 February 2013).