"'The initial redundancies were paralegals,' says Alison Butters, the joint president of the Scottish Paralegal Association. 'Then the solicitors realised they were struggling without them.'" According to the article, many legal staff were the first to take a hit when the economy turns south. Many solicitors thought they could do paralegal work, but were surprised to find out that they had forgotten how to perform small tasks, like filling out forms correctly.
Meanwhile, along with the re-opening of the job market, Scottish paralegals are celebrating another milestone. "In a little under four months, the UK's first registration scheme for paralegals will be introduced to the Scottish legal profession."
This means that qualified paralegals will be able to apply for registration as paralegals. The registration program will set a minimum standard for ethics and training for those who desire the title "registered paralegal."
The initiative is a validation of sorts for professional paralegals in Scotland, a validation that the SPA has been working toward since its establishment in1993.
Ms. Butters describes Scottish paralegals in the '90s as caught "somewhere between a secretary and a solicitor and in a kind of no-man's land." Who here hasn't spent time in that land?
Aside from bringing better definition and recognition to the paralegal role, the registration program will have the added benefit of weeding out those individuals who "shouldn't really be described as paralegals," according to Ms. Butters.
Even recently, before the implementation of the registration program, paralegal salaries have risen in Scotland. While Ms. Butters insists that this is not the specific aim of the program, I would guess the paralegals are not complaining. My guess is that the SPA has helped provide Scottish paralegals with a cohesive professional identity during its several years of existence, and that it is the group identity that makes them more valuable to the legal world. A professional identity helps enforce standards within the group, and higher standards will inevitably lead to higher monetary value.
Our Scottish friends have the right idea. High standards and a unified identity promote the inherent value of any profession. All over the world, the similar paralegal news stories are popping up - from registration to certification, even to licensure of paralegals. The rising value of nonattorney legal professionals is hopefully driving down costs and allowing easier access to justice in countries that have implemented these programs. The comparison and contrast of the United States with all of these other countries makes me very interested to see where our justice system will be in relation to all the rest twenty years from now. I know one thing: I want to be right in the middle of it when I find out.