A paralegal is someone who is qualified by education, training or work experience to perform specific and substantive legal work under the direction and supervision of an attorney. Quite simply, paralegals are special assistants to attorneys.
A paralegal is permitted to perform any task an attorney normally does except those that constitute the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). Each state defines UPL in slightly different terms, but the following tasks universally constitute the unauthorized practice of law and are forbidden:
- practice law
- setting of legal fees
- sign any documents as a legal representative
- give legal advice
- represent a client in court
Their primary function is to perform legal tasks and other functions requiring a detailed understanding of the law so that attorneys can spend their time on more valuable functions like devising litigation strategies and defenses, settlement negotiations, cultivating prospective clients and managing existing clients. The scope of a paralegal’s duties and responsibilities is only limited by the paralegal’s willingness to learn and desire the attorney has to delegate tasks.
Now that we have provided a general outline of what a paralegal can and can’t do, it is time to provide a bit more detail and specifics about the sort of tasks and duties a paralegal encounters on a daily basis.
Interviewing clients and investigating facts
Once a client has consulted with an attorney and agreed to retain his services, a paralegal will usually meet with the client to conduct an interview and gather a statement. During this process, the facts presented by the client are noted and the paralegal analyzes the statements to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case. The intensity of these tasks depends on the type and nature of the case.
Secure affidavits and other official statements for submission and presentation in official court filings and hearings
Paralegals are responsible for drafting and preparing official court documents that must be filed for each case. For example, when a parent files for primary physical custody of a child, a court petition containing a statement presenting certain material facts supplied by the parent must be filed. The paralegal would go over this statement with the client before submitting it for final review to the attorney and eventual court filing.
Monitor and track cases and information related to cases in internal database systems
Many paralegals, although this task can be delegated to a legal assistant or secretary, will be responsible for ensuring that proper notes about each case are logged in the proper files, that court dates and appearances are calendared, and ensure that scheduling of cases do not conflict. In larger metropolitan areas, it is quite possible that an attorney will represent clients in multiple jurisdictions.
Draft correspondence and other documents
Many cases will require written correspondence for a variety of reasons, including requests of records for discovery purposes, requests for statements, etc. A paralegal will oversee these tasks and ensure that they are handled on behalf of the attorney and client.
Organize and present the information and/or submit written reports to attorneys handling the case
Depending on the size of the firm and their internal policies, paralegals will be responsible for keeping case information organized, informing the attorney with updates relevant to the case and providing status reports when needed.
Conducting legal research
Each case to be presented in court before a judge and jury must be developed, reasoned and substantiated by previous court decisions and relevant statutes. Paralegals are responsible for vetting the facts and researching past decisions and precedents, legal articles and other writings. Research will be the primary task of many paralegals.
If you are interested in learning more about how to become a paralegal, please visit our paralegal hub page.
If you are interested in learning more about other fantastic and rewarding careers that do not require a traditional four-year college degree, please visit the Ditch College career portal.