What is a Paralegal?
What's your next step?
The fact that paralegals perform an incredible variety of tasks, and are trained in advanced skills such as legal research and writing, may be a surprise to you. It's not a surprise to most lawyers.
What do paralegals/legal assistants do?
The legal assistant concept began to develop in the late 1960's when law firms and individual practitioners sought ways to improve the efficient and cost effective delivery of legal services. Other factors, such as the growing volume of legal actions, also entered into the development of the legal assistant field.
In the past, the terms legal assistant and paralegal were used interchangeably. However, the term paralegal is increasingly used to describe someone with more credentials than a legal assistant, such as a degree or certificate in legal studies.
The practice of law is regulated by each of the 50 states, in which legal assistants/paralegals are prohibited from practicing law without a license. Professionally, a paralegal's time for legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same as an attorney's time, but at a lower hourly rate.
A legal assistant or paralegal may perform any function delegated by an attorney, including but not limited to the following:
- Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the paralegal, and the paralegal works under the supervision of the attorney
- Locate and interview witnesses
- Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research
- Conduct legal research
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings
- Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony
- Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney
- Author and sign correspondence, provided the legal assistant status is clearly indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice
Interested in becoming a paralegal? Click here for more information on the steps to beginning an exciting new career.