How paralegals helped the University of York complaints team
It was November 2022, and the University of York’s complaints team were facing an increased workload. Tom Richens (Deputy Head of Student Administration - Student and Academic Services) and Kathryn Lucas (Student Administration Manager – Complaints) were new to their roles, and found themselves inheriting a substantial backlog of complaints to process and resolve. Additionally the sector was facing strike action, with university staff engaged in industrial action prompting yet more student complaints.
The complaints backlog was already a big problem, and it was still growing. The implications for not addressing the issue were significant. Effective complaint handling is vital to the student experience at university. It provides organisational accountability and introspective prompts to review processes that perhaps aren’t working as well as they should. Without good complaints handling, a university suffers.
With a mounting caseload and an urgent need to get on top of the situation, Tom and Kathryn decided to temporarily increase the capacity of their team. Their hope was that by delegating high-volume casework investigation work away to interim staff, they could thereby free up their time to focus on compliance aspects of the backlog. To that end, they reached out to Flex Legal.
Why paralegals are perfect for complaints handlingComplaints handling is difficult. Really difficult. Even its most basic level, it involves analysing cases, triaging them, conducting in-depth research into the factual merits of the case, liaising with concerned parties on both sides of the complaint, compiling and analysing information, and finally making well informed outcome recommendations. All of this must be carefully balanced alongside many other cases, and whilst empathetically and effectively engaging with potentially aggrieved parties.
If you are a legal professional reading through that list, there’s a good chance you will identify with the work involved in complaints handling. There is a very clear overlap with the skills involved in legal casework and complaints casework. This is precisely why the University of York decided to contact Flex, and employ the services of interim paralegals as opposed to more generalist admin professionals.
“Flex are well versed in understanding the world of legal work, which doesn’t come from other agencies who deal with other specialisms”
It takes 6 months on average for a complaints officer to become fully trained on all aspects of an organisation’s complaints process. Given the urgency of the problem they had inherited, fully training new junior colleagues was simply not an option for Tom and Kathryn. Recruiting paralegals with existing transferable skills, however, very much was. On the morning of November 4th, Tom filled out the Contact Form on Flex Legal’s website. A few hours later, he was on a Zoom call and speaking with Flex’s Client Services Team about the nature of the task at hand. The wheels were in motion.
Finding the perfect paralegals for jobOnce Tom had explained the problems his team was facing, we immediately got to work searching our platform for available paralegals with suitable experience. Flex has always sought to facilitate perfect pairings of organisations and interim legal professionals, which is why we pre-vet every single platform user with onboarding interviews and tests.
We compiled a bespoke candidate shortlist and sent it Tom and Kathryn. The shortlist contained comprehensive online profiles of each paralegal, complete with CVs and self-filmed videos explaining a bit more about who they were and what kind of experience they were looking for. Tom and Kathryn decided to conduct their own interviews with each candidate, which was by no means a requirement but we were more than happy for them to do so.
After interviewing each paralegal, they were decidedly impressed with Susan Mobolaji and Cristina Boaghi, and felt they were the right fit for their team. Susan had previously qualified as a lawyer in Nigeria, before moving to the UK an obtaining a Master’s Degree in Law from the University of Hull. Cristina had previously worked as a Senior Legal Advisor in the Moldovan Parliament, a Deputy Minister in the Moldovan Ministry of Education, and earned her Master’s Degree in International and Institutional Law from the Free International University of Moldova before moving to the UK. Both were seasoned legal experts, who were drawn to Flex Legal by their shared interest in accruing more UK legal work experience.
“Flex is great in every way. They’re really quick to turn around, really proactive, and the shortlisted candidates have all been great. Even the candidates we interviewed but haven’t progressed have been of a really high quality.”
How Susan and Cristina helped the University of YorkSusan and Cristina began to work with the University of York on a hybrid basis, working partly from home and partly on campus. Their initial onboarding covered some University of York-specific GDPR training and a brief on how the department and its processes work. It was also important that they were trained in how to work with students with Special Education Needs, which was new to both Susan and Cristina. During the onboarding, Kathryn noted how willing to learn the paralegals were, and they in turn found the in-house University of York team to be incredibly supportive. Things were off to a flying start!
Once Susan and Cristina had settled in, they got to work on the student complaints backlog. Each case was entirely unique and needed to be approached with nuance and consideration. One moment they could be contacting the originating department of a complaint for more information, the next they could be liaising with a student to keep them updated and provide them with timeframes for their complaint. It was a mixed bag of administrative and communication tasks, all falling under the overarching umbrella of their responsibility to take on time-consuming, high-volume tasks.
With the paralegals moving cases on at speed, the permanent complaints team were free to focus on more intricate and detailed work. Susan and Cristina also helped the team to prepare case summaries for when complaints needed to be escalated and considered by an academic registrar. As the paralegals continued to work in the complaints department, their skills developed and their relationship with the complaints team matured and their skills in research and dispute resolution blossomed.
“The paralegals have been really enthusiastic, proactive, and hard-working. They’ve done everything that they have been asked to do and have really helped us.”
In time, the complaints backlog was all but cleared. Susan and Cristina have now finished their placements, and the time of writing find themselves in new roles. Cristina is utilising the skills she refined at the University of York with her new position at the UK Home Office, and Susan is working with the renowned law firm Leigh Day.
“I would absolutely recommend interim junior resources, it’s something that we’ve found to be really beneficial in terms of getting through cases. It means we organise our work in a slightly different way to normal. Our in-house case officers can focus on the specialised tasks that take a long time to learn, and interim junior colleagues can do the investigation around it. It’s been great!”
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- How Saad went from Flex Paralegal to Flex Trainee - Paralegals working through Flex don’t stay that way forever. Some of them graduate onto the Flex Trainee scheme, just like Saad did. Read more!
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