Paralegals – A Lawyer’s Best Friend | Butler Snow srl
The practice of law is increasingly complex and lawyers can use all the support they can get. Paralegals often play an important role in legal teams, providing invaluable support to lawyers. But this raises a few questions: what are paralegals? Are they the same as paralegals? What are they allowed to do? This blog will attempt to briefly answer these questions.
First of all, what is a “paralegal”? The term is often used interchangeably with “legal assistant”. For example, the ABA has defined legal assistant/paralegal as follows:
“A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training, or professional experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law firm, corporation, government agency, or other entity and who performs a specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
Similarly, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) definition states:
“Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinct group of people who assist lawyers in the provision of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, paralegals have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law that qualifies them to perform work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.
The takeaway from these definitions is that paralegals perform legal work under the supervision of an attorney. The lawyer must supervise the work and the lawyer remains responsible for the work
So what exactly can paralegals do? Perhaps a better starting point is what paralegals can do not To do? Although there may be jurisdictional differences, in general, paralegals cannot: (1) accept cases from prospective clients; (2) set fees; (3) give direct legal advice to clients; (4) negotiate legal matters on behalf of clients (unless communicating offers on behalf of a supervising attorney); (5) representing clients in court; or (6) sign pleadings or motions on behalf of the attorney or client (most jurisdictions allow paralegals to sign on firm letterhead if they place the appropriate designations under their name) . Any of these tasks would likely violate rules of business conduct and ethics, or the unauthorized practice of legal statutes in most states.
Notwithstanding the list above, there are many things a paralegal/legal assistant can do to support the lawyer in representing a client. For example, a paralegal may: (1) conduct interviews with the client and maintain general contact with the client after the attorney-client relationship has been established, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the paralegal , and that the contact with the client is under the supervision of the lawyer; (2) locate and interview witnesses, so long as the witnesses are aware of the status and function of the paralegal; (3) conduct statistical and documentary investigations and research for review by counsel; (4) conduct legal research for review by the attorney; (5) drafting legal documents for review by the attorney; (6) summarizing depositions, interviews and testimony for counsel’s review; (7) attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney; (8) write and sign letters provided that the status of the paralegal is clearly stated and that the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice.
There is no doubt that lawyers rely heavily on paralegals. Indeed, given the number and variety of tasks that paralegals can perform in the legal setting, paralegals have earned a level of trust and respect in the legal profession commensurate with the role they play within the legal profession. client’s legal team.