A paralegal's tale
30 Aug 17
Janet Rieu-Clarke, the Law Society’s accredited paralegal, explains the path that led her to new role at the Society and the rationale behind the new accredited paralegal status.
On 4 August 2017 over 400 Law Society of Scotland registered paralegals, myself included, logged off our computers and made our ways home; returning to work on Monday 7 August 2017, as if by magic, we were now all Law Society of Scotland accredited paralegals.
The reason for this amazing transformation was that both paralegals and the Society felt that the term "registered paralegal" no longer adequately reflected the paralegals’ position in the legal industry. So after much consideration, a decision was made to change the name to something which would reflect the quality and professionalism of the person using it, and also act as a gold standard for non-solicitor services – and here the marque of the accredited paralegal was introduced.
So who am I and what is my role in all of this? Well, 15 years ago, fresh from university and clutching my law degree, I returned to the Isle of Bute, where I grew up, to work out what I really wanted to do until I could legitimately retire or win the lottery! It was here that I started my career as a paralegal and was introduced to the wonderful world of conveyancing, and it wasn’t what it is now!
It was a time of cupboards full of musty, often smelly, handstitched and handwritten sasine titles which required a magnifying glass, a lot of patience and often a dark room to lie down in afterwards. Those of you who have dealt with this type of title will know that feeling of relief when you receive your first land certificate to examine.
During my time in private practice, I worked as both a residential and commercial property paralegal in Scotland and for a short period, England. Over the years my role as a paralegal has changed depending on the type of firm I was working for. I have typed up dictation due to staff shortages, covered reception duties and attended the opening of the salmon fishing season on the River Tay, and all of this while maintaining my own caseload.
These things have helped shape the paralegal I have become. I have worked for large organisations with offices all over the UK, and most recently for a smaller firm based in Edinburgh with less than 30 members of staff (and plenty of other sizes and shapes of firms in between).
For me the secret to a good workplace is the people you work with, and I have been very lucky to work with a lot of good people over the years, many of whom I still meet up with for a chat and a large glass of sauvignon blanc.
In my 15 years in private practice, I have seen the role of the paralegal evolve from being a somewhat rare and unusual position held by a few people, to now being a role which is seen as being an integral part of the Scottish legal system. The introduction of a quality standard through accreditation – which is regulated by the Law Society of Scotland – can only be good for paralegals and the legal sector as a whole.
In May I was successful in applying for a position with the Law Society‘s Professional Practice team in a completely new role as an accredited paralegal. Part of the attraction of the role was the opportunity to help shape the future of the paralegal status and to be part of the Society for such an important milestone. To be able to promote something which I am proud to be a part of and which I want others to be proud of was also an important factor.
In the Professional Practice team we provide guidance to members on both ethical issues and matters of practice. Beyond that I will be engaging with paralegals, both accredited and non-accredited, and the firms they work for to promote the new Accredited Paralegal Status and the benefits of joining. I will be attending events to promote the new status and hosting some networking events to get to know you all and find out what we can do to help you in the future.
So while the days of musty titles may be long gone, I have to admit that I miss the client facing side of private practice (I even miss some of my more demanding clients). But I am thoroughly enjoying this new challenge and relishing the opportunity to view the legal profession from a different perspective. And now my fellow paralegals are my customers and it’s great to be able to offer you some guidance and advice when required, as well helping to promote and build the Accredited Paralegal Status to reflect your true expertise.
If you would like to have a chat about the Accredited Paralegal Status or about having your current paralegals join, please feel free to call me on 0131 476 8352 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help. Alternatively, visit our website and log into the members’ area where we have updated the accredited paralegal page with lots of new information.
Janet Rieu-Clarke is accredited paralegal with the Law Society of Scotland