By Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
The easing of lockdown restrictions has left many people with decisions to make: mask or no mask; isolate when pinged or delete if pinged; embrace vaccine passports or eschew clubbing. But for many, these are trivial concerns, as they face mental, physical, economical, and legal issues tied to lockdown in its various forms.
As we pick up the pieces, the question for the paralegal profession is, where as an industry, can we offer the most value and support to clients who need access to legal advice at an affordable cost?
There are four main areas.
Our working lives will no doubt change. Some may be required to revert to travelling to work, but others will be asked to continue working remotely. Can your employer force you to continue working from home, or on the other hand, can they force you to return to the office if you are not comfortable doing so? This may be an employment law issue where both employees and employers need legal support and advice.
Employment law claims may arise as a result of safety issues such as an employer not insisting on social distancing or mask wearing, and an employee refusing to go to work as a result of this. Can the employer force the employee to come to work, or can the employee legitimately decline to do so? It may boil down to the clauses in the employee’s employment contract, or simply that the employer is being unreasonable. In either scenario, an employment tribunal case may ensue if the employee is dismissed, or if the employee brings a claim of constructive dismissal.
Litigation for breach of contract
There may well be an increase in civil litigation claims based on breaches of contract. For example, if a consumer purchases an item online from a business that relies on deliveries of materials, but the supplier hasn’t enough capital to purchase the materials in the first place, this could give rise to serial breaches of contract. Some may be legally enforceable; others may be covered by ‘force majeure’ clauses. And it is likely all will require some legal advice or support.
Debt recovery and payment negotiation
Some debts may have been written off. Similarly, mortgage instalment holidays may have been granted to borrowers during lockdown. But now we are on the road to a complete easing of lockdown it’s likely many lenders will start to ask for the debts to be repaid. How will we cope with the consequences, if for example, mortgage lenders decide to pursue borrowers? Or banks decide to foreclose on debts? There may be a knock-on effect on businesses, if for example, invoices are not paid, or deliveries not made.
So, I anticipate that a growth area for paralegals will be supporting clients who are being chased for money they owe, and likewise supporting those who are owed money. In particular, we’ll see an increase in claims through the small claims court.
Landlord and Tenant
Tenants who can’t afford to pay their rent because they have lost their job, may find that they will be evicted if their landlord serves a Notice to Quit on them. With the eviction ban now over, we may see landlords look to reclaim properties from tenants who are severely behind on their rent or who are indulging in anti-social behaviour. Again, both parties are likely to need legal help in this situation.
In turn this could lead to an increase in numbers of homeless people needing welfare benefits and emergency housing.
Additionally, there are court backlogs (due to the inability to have face-to-face hearings, and because of staff having to work remotely) and a possible rise in criminal activity (as individuals become increasingly desperate, they may resort to committing minor offences, such as shoplifting, to keep themselves afloat) to be considered.
While we do not know for sure how things will pan out in the coming months, there could well be an increase in cases involving debts, employment law, breaches of contract, welfare and housing law and possibly an increase in criminal behaviour in the near future. And this is where paralegals can offer support and advice for clients who may not have the means to afford a solicitor.
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
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