Paralegal skills and establishing an Advice Centre
A paralegal is an accredited person, who:
Paralegals use their knowledge and experience to help people with legal and other problems. A paralegal may investigate and refer matters to lawyers or relevant bodies for them to deal with. They can become educators on the law and rights for people in their communities. They can play a leading and supportive role in campaigns for improving community living standards and general community development.
Paralegals are not just mini-lawyers. Obviously they cannot assist people in court and other tribunals until they acquire the relevant qualification and accreditation. But more than this, their role is to look at a variety of methods, other than using the courts, to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions to peoples’ problems. Using the courts can bring quick relief which is important in many cases, but this is not always the case. Court cases can take a long time to be finalized, the costs involved are often huge and the outcome for a person may be negative. Paralegals should aim to deal with problems in a more holistic way.
A woman and her children who are suffering from abuse at the hands of the husband and father, should be advised by a paralegal to apply for a Protection Order. But the paralegal should also see the bigger picture: the woman and her children are financially dependent on the husband and father for their survival so they cannot move out of the house unless they are supported in this process. The paralegal should therefore help the woman apply for Child Support Grants for her children and she should be referred to child welfare or to women abuse organizations for support.
In general, a paralegal should focus more on the use of conflict resolution methods like negotiation, conciliation, mediation and arbitration to resolve conflicts in communities rather than using the courts.
A farmer is planning to evict ten families from his farm without a court order. A paralegal can help the families to approach the courts (using a lawyer) to get an urgent interdict to stop the evictions from taking place. But this only provides the families with temporary relief. It would probably be of more benefit to the families if they were to sit around a table with the farmer and negotiate a way of dealing with the problem which would benefit all the parties. While they are doing this they should be lobbying and putting pressure on the local government to provide land for the families to settle on because they don't have security of tenure rights on the farm. The paralegal can help them in all of these actions.
Paralegals in different sectors
Paralegals work in different sectors of society. These include:
The role of paralegals
These are some of the things that paralegals can do:
Paralegals play an important role in the legal process because many people cannot afford lawyers, people sometimes find it intimidating going to a lawyer and there are usually few sympathetic lawyers operating in rural areas.
Formal recognition of paralegals in the legal system
The public and the legal profession recognise that paralegals are important because they allow disadvantaged people to have access to justice. However, for many years paralegals were not formally recognized by the legal profession. There are a number of regulatory options being considered for paralegals, including an independent regulatory framework..
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