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Paralegals are often ill-equipped to work in a modern legal practice, with many having received insufficient training from their firm, according to a Law Society study.
Research by the society's Research and Policy Planning Unit found 37 per cent of an estimates 25,000 non-solicitor fee earners in England and Wales believe they are under-trained.
The survey also found huge discrepancies in the amount of training each paralegal has received, with more than half not having an Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) qualification. It quizzed partners in 476 firms about paralegals and questioned 238 paralegals individually.
Eighty-three per cent of the firms questioned say they think the training of paralegal staff is important. But 60 per cent of the paralegals say they would benefit from more computer training and 30 per cent say they want to become solicitors.
The report found that 47 per cent of all the firms spend less than £500 on external training for all their paralegals.
Report authors Judith Sidaway and Tom Punt admitted the bulk of the research was carried out in 1993. "Pressure of work" prevented it from being published earlier.
But a Law Society spokes- man defended the findings, saying they were checked and updated before release.