An interview with David Holland, Chief Executive of the Institute of Paralegals

Posted in Interviews on 17 Dec 2014

David Holland is the Chief Executive of the Institute of Paralegals and has a wealth of business experience spanning more than 40 years, with 28 years working at Director level. 

David recently fought the Paralegal corner well in front of a blood thirsty House of Commons Justice Committee. He put the blame for the emergence of unregulated advisers in the legal services industry firmly at the door of Solicitors and the SRA citing affordability and regulatory burden as the main drivers for change in the sector.

We are sensing that unregulated advisors are readying themselves to cross the Rubicon - if so then David Holland is making a fine case to lead them past that point of no return.. 

Q1: Tell us about the Institute of Paralegals (IOP) and your role as Chief Executive

I am the Chief Executive of the IOP. The IOP ( is a not-for-profit professional body for paralegals. Established in 2003, it has recently absorbed the Society of Specialist Paralegals. The IOP sets professional standards and provides recognition for paralegals working in the regulated and unregulated legal sectors.

The IOP is part of the Instructus group of educational charities (, of which I am also the Chief Executive. Instructus, through its subsidiary Skills CFA (, is responsible for creating business-related apprenticeship frameworks.  30% of all apprentices in the UK are taking a business apprenticeship created by Skills CFA.  Skills CFA is also responsible for the development and review of National Occupational Standards for generic business skills.

The IOP exists to support and represent unregulated legal practitioners (that is to say legal practitioners who are not solicitors, barristers, trademark agents, legal executives, patent agents, notaries, licensed conveyancers, costs lawyers or overseas lawyers practising as such).

The IOP’s membership covers paralegal law firms and individuals in the unregulated sector as well as, of course, paralegals working in solicitors’ law firms and law firms run by other regulated legal professions (e.g. trademark agents). The IOP also has many overseas members.

My appointment as Chief Executive of the IOP and Instructus group is primarily a strategic one. The legal sector is transforming rapidly, (as is the vocational education landscape) demanding great flexibility to accommodate the major changes that seem to be happening every three months or so at the moment.

Q2: The Access to Justice debate continues to stir up opinion – where do you stand on it and could a licensed body of Paralegals carrying Professional Indemnity Insurance be one solution?

During November we were invited to give oral evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on the issue of access to justice following the virtual abolition of legal aid.

We are very concerned that such a large proportion of the population feels it cannot afford to have access to justice.  We are against the cuts to the legal aid budget, but believe that even if they were repealed in full (which is extremely unlikely to happen), it would still not address the lack of access to justice that most the population faces.

It is unfortunate that some people frame the debate as solicitors versus unregulated practitioners (i.e. paralegals). The truth of the matter is that the unregulated legal sector is large and growing because solicitors are either simply unaffordable for many (e.g. conducting litigation) or have, as a profession, largely walked away from whole practice areas because they have been deemed insufficiently profitable (e.g. most housing and social welfare law).

Therefore, for the most part, paralegals are not direct competition to solicitors, they are merely filling a void left by solicitors.

We have sympathy for solicitors who would like to offer more affordable services but who feel that the weight of regulation (especially the cost of professional indemnity insurance) makes this unfeasible. We regret this because in such cases everyone loses - especially the consumer. However, we don’t agree that the correct response is to stop cheaper practitioners coming into the market or regulating them so heavily that they cannot afford to offer affordable, accessible legal advice either.

McKenzie Friends are a good example of the market responding to a growing unmet need.

It is our view that the best way to widen access to justice is to remove the distinction between regulated and unregulated legal practitioners (which is based primarily on historic job titles which are no longer fully accurate) but instead look at the different types of law/service provided and set basic regulatory protections appropriate to that practice area. With the minimum protections in place, solicitors and others would be free to offer a “gold-plated / high water mark” service if they wished.

What we cannot do is carry on the current situation where the defence of standards has led to the wholly unintended consequence that the service has been pushed out of reach of the ordinary man, woman or SME. What is the point of standards if they are so high that they make the service unavailable? Who exactly are the standards serving then?

Q3: Is the future bright for the Paralegal profession or will it face challenges over the next twelve months or so?

Both are true. The future for the paralegal profession is getting brighter almost month by month as the government, legal profession and judiciary all begin to openly acknowledge the role already played by paralegals and that the paralegal role needs to be recognised still further and expanded – at the moment with regard to McKenzie Friends.

There will continue to be challenges. The biggest challenge is the limit to which recognition can be given to paralegals without some form of regulation. However, government appears to have no appetite for increasing the amount of regulation in the legal sector. It is likely therefore that (as has been the case this past five or so years) the paralegal profession will develop due to market demand rather than regulatory overhaul. That, in turn, means different part of the paralegal profession developing at different speeds. The big challenge that produces is to try and ensure consistency of standards, professionalism and service despite differing levels and speeds of evolution.

Q4: The National Association of Licensed Paralegals - how do they differ from your organisation (IOP)?

There is little fundamental difference between the IOP and NALP: both organisations are committed to improving the recognition of paralegals and helping paralegal practitioners to have great career options. The differences between the two organisations are largely technical.

What is interesting is that both organisations recognise that the greatest competition is not from each other, but from the regulated sector who (not unreasonably) want to influence the development of the unregulated sector in a way most favourable to it. As a result, both organisations are increasingly working together. December sees the launch of a joint project, the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) which will be an online register of those paralegals who have voluntarily committed themselves to meeting the PPR professionalism and standards requirements. The concept of the PPR was endorsed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Services in their ground-breaking Legal Education & Training Review report (LETR). The IOP and NALP are working very closely to make the PPR the prime directory of unregulated legal professionals who wish to act to the highest professional standards.


Q5: The IoP is part of the Instructus Group am I right? What does the Instructus Group do and tell us about your role as Chairman

As mentioned above, the Instructus group of educational charities ( through its subsidiary Skills CFA (, is responsible for creating business-related apprenticeship frameworks.  30% of all apprentices in the UK are taking a business apprenticeship created by Skills CFA.  Skills CFA is also responsible for the development and review of National Occupational Standards for business skills. I am in fact the CEO of the organisation and ceased to be the Chairman nearly 2 years ago.

Q6: You are a Director of many businesses and organisations. This must provide you with so much variety, and challenge. Which elements do you enjoy the most and equally, what challenges you?
Since becoming CEO I have in fact relinquished the majority of my external roles but of course my past career has been extensive and insightful. I enjoy change and my core skill is probably change management. There is significant market change in respect of the provision of legal services and in the vocational educational sphere in which our Group of companies operates there has also been significant strategic change by government. The primary one being the drive to make vocational education demand driven and to interlink skills and industrial strategies.

Q7:  You spent decades in the print industry working in a variety of roles and businesses. Which achievement stood out for you the most/what were you most proud off?
There is no one achievement. Having had profit responsibility for over 50 individual businesses of vastly differing scale and technologies there have been many moments of challenge and fulfilment. I think that creating something that is positive, sustainable and of benefit to both the consumer and the business entity will also be my principal objective and there have been many examples of such events, I am pleased to say.

Q8: What has been your greatest achievement so far in life?
My children

Q9: Who’s been the biggest influence on your career and why?
Peter Drucker probably although I am not sure that he is fashionable anymore. I think he presents the ethical case for enterprise in a persuasive way which makes the profit motive the agent of sustainability rather than the core objective of a collective business activity, irrespective of sector of the economy.

Q10: Tell us about you – your childhood, education, career history, family and hobbies etc.
I was born in Middlesex and was a sickly child experiencing very little primary education. I was ultimately educated at The Royal Grammar School in Guildford. I was academically successful at school but enjoyed neither it nor home life and left both behind as soon as I could get away with it. My family were keen for me to become a professional musician but I did not feel I had the talent for it. I benefited massively from the provision of vocational education although the rest of my development came from ‘the schools of hard knocks.

I cannot over emphasise the value I place on being given the opportunity for a commercial apprenticeship with a paper conglomerate as it gave me practical opportunities very early in life and I was able to work in many different environments and led to me travelling extensively. I qualified as a Cost & Works Accountant in 1973 but may career was already moving beyond the accounting sphere by then. 

I have had 5 employers over 50 years although almost as many appointments as years of experience. I have also had management responsibilities in all continents of the world.

My hobbies include the performing arts, literature and sport. I am married with 3 adult offspring and 3 grandchildren.

Thanks David

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