Paralegals growing force in profession

LAWYERS must change their approach to legal practice and compete for work with paralegals if they want to retain the bulk of their business, a new report says.

Released by the ABA commission on non-lawyer practice, the report says paralegals have a "greater role to play" in providing legal services and lawyers must find better ways to meet the needs of people on moderate incomes.

It suggests lawyers put offices in shopping malls, offer nights and weekend hours, hire multi-lingual lawyers and staff and provide limited legal services at reduced costs to people who want to act for themselves.

Lawyers should also consider participating in pre-paid legal insurance plans, offering services to plan members at a fixed annual fee and utilising paralegal services more effectively in their offices to expand their range of services.

The report, prepared after consultation with 400 people, notes that up to 70 per cent of people on low and moderate incomes do not hire lawyers to provide legal services, choosing instead to go without help and to turn to non-profit agencies and non-lawyer providers.

Reasons for this include antipathy towards the profession, large fees and the fact that people are prepared to take risks rather than pay high costs.

But the commission's overriding message is that lawyers who want to retain their caseload must stop being complacent about the abilities of paralegals and recognise that they can fit into practices.

"Lawyers are going to have to change their approach and they're going to have to be competitive," said commission member David Shear. "What lawyers must do is to penetrate the market that is out there.

"If the lawyers attack this in the proper way they can offer a quality service. But lawyers are going to have to ensure change. If they can get paralegals to do more things than they do today, then they can reduce the cost of the service and make lawyers more accessible."