The term Paralegal can have multiple meanings in different countries . For this reason there is sometimes confusion when it comes to defining what one actually is.
A term closely related to the term Paralegal is Legal assistant. The problem with grouping them together is, that a Paralegal is often a more qualified Legal assistant.
As time has gone by the growing trend is to differentiate a Legal Assistant from a Paralegal, due to the Para-legals expertise and qualifications.
A Paralegal will usually have greater expertise, and be qualified to carry out more substantial tasks within a law firm, in some case this can be some of the same work that a lawyer would actually do, when the lawyer is absent.
A Legal assistant would often have the task of carrying out more basic tasks like a secretary such as:
- Drafting correspondence
- Organizing documents
Over the past decade the term Legal assistant has evolved to include legal secretaries, law clerks and Paralegals. In essence a distinction can and should be made. Within the legal insdustry studies have shown that professionals prefer the term Paralegal rather than Legal Assistant.
What does a Paralegal Do?
The first thing to know is that there is no set structure to what a Paralegal does within a legal firm, the only limitation is generally imagination of the lawyer.
The only thing that will effect the quality of work a paralegal receives is their level of experience and education, the difficulty of the task and the way the legal firm does things.
A List Of Some Of The Tasks A Paralegal May Be Expected To Perform -
(1)- Contacting Clients
One of the most popular tasks of a Paralegal will be contact clients on behalf of the lawyer. In a lot of cases they will be the primary contact for the lawyer. The paralegal will often be able to advise clients on topics that don’t constitute actual legal advice, and also keep clients up to date.
Related: Paralegal Job Description Explained
(2)- Interviewing Clients
Before a lawyer sees a client they will usually need some facts about the client. A paralegal is likely to be assigned the task of getting the relevant facts, something a skilled paralegal will have the expertise and experience to do.
(3)- Legal Investigations
The gathering, organizing and summarizing of relevant information, are tasks that a paralegal, will perform. For instance in the case of a probate case investigation into personal property will be required and in a personal injury law suit, photographs of the actual accident. In both such cases a skilled Paralegal will be able to obtain and assess the information.
(4)- Task Completion
Legal tasks will always have deadlines in most cases. I.e. a document may be required for court, a contract to be signed or a response to requested information. The Paralegal will be responsible for tracking deadlines and other important dates for the lawyer.
(5)- Legal Research
A well trained Paralegal, will often be able to perform routine legal research, such as locating related cases, statutes, court rulings and regulations on specific legal matters. The ability to summarize this information, may also be requested by the lawyer.
(6)- Preparation of Legal documents
A Paralegal will be able to prepare legal documentation, with the lawyers supervision. Drafts such as pleadings, contracts, deeds, wills and other routine legal paperwork are all things a lawyer is likely to need prepared.
These are just some of the tasks you are likely to be expected to do as a Paralegal. Because of the nature of the work there are many more tasks that you may be asked to do, such as witnessing of depositions, typing, filing, and photocopying.
What Is A Paralegal’s Job Prospects
A formally trained Paralegal, will have the greatest chance to find employment. Employments can be in a number of different settings, the most common are with in law firms, corporate legal departments and government offices.
US Paralegal Associations
There are a number of local and nation associations that can be approached to get information and begin training as a Paralegal within the US, which are the following;
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. is an association dedicated to advancing the paralegal profession by focusing on the individual Paralegal.
- The National Capital Area Paralegal Association
- The National Paralegal Association
- The National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- The National Association of Legal Assistants
- The U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Description for Paralegal and Legal Assistants
What Is A Paralegal In Canada
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the licensing body for Paralegals in Onatario, Canada. This is the only place in the western world where paralegals are actually licensed professionals, which makes them regulated officers of court.
Related: How Much Do Paralegals Make?
What Is A Paralegal In The UK (England & Wales)
The National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) established in 1987, is the organisation that awards qualifications in the UK dedicated to paralegals (England & Wales). They offer recognised professional paralegal qualifications and legal training.