SIGNIFICANT step forward for the hundreds of paralegals working in the Scottish legal system took place yesterday.

More than 400 paralegals registered with the Law Society of Scotland will now be known as “accredited paralegals” under a new scheme.

According to the Law Society, the name change “better reflects the high professional status of paralegals accredited under the scheme”.

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The new scheme is for voluntary accreditation of paralegals working in Scotland. It provides a defined professional status and a career path for paralegals. Accreditation is achieved by demonstrating an ability to work to a specified set of standards.

Denise Robertson, manager in the society’s registrar’s team, said: “The term ‘accredited’ more fairly and accurately reflects what the status is and does: accrediting paralegals as knowledgeable and proficient in a particular practice area, and confirming that they have experiential learning, supported by a qualification.

“One of the aims of the accredited paralegal scheme is to provide a professional qualification and identifiable quality standard for paralegals across the profession. In turn, having a quality standard will assure clients that work is being processed efficiently and at the right level.”

Paralegals currently registered with the Law Society of Scotland will automatically become “accredited paralegals” and all paralegals with relevant experience or who hold a relevant qualification are eligible to join the scheme.

Paralegals with more than two years’ experience in one of the 12 practice areas can apply to become an accredited paralegal. Those with less than two years’ experience but holding the necessary qualifications will undergo a year of training before gaining accredited paralegal status.

During the year of training, paralegals must demonstrate competence in both a specific area of practice and general paralegal work and will be expected to complete at least ten hours of continuing professional development.

Janet Rieu-Clarke, the society’s accredited paralegal, said: “The scheme has tangible benefits for legal services users, solicitors employing paralegals and the accredited paralegals themselves.

“As part of the change, accredited paralegals will have access to a range of career development opportunities and benefits, including access to our professional practice helpline, which offers free support and advice on legal practice and procedure.

“I would strongly recommend the scheme to my paralegal colleagues.”