Paralegals and Legal Assistants

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Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts. Source: National Federation of Paralegal Associations

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?
There is no specific standard or set of qualifications one must achieve to become a legal assistant or a paralegal. The terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" can be interchangeable.

Historically, paralegals have been referred to as paralegals or legal assistants depending upon their geographical location or employer's preference; the terms are synonymous and used interchangeably. In November 1995, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) adopted the term Paralegal as the preferred term for the profession. NFPA members identified several recent trends in the paralegal profession including court decisions awarding higher fees to attorneys employing persons called paralegal instead of legal assistant, the ABA Commission on Non-Lawyer Practice's latest report using paralegal almost exclusively, and several paralegal associations changing their names to paralegal from legal assistant. Source: Center for Paralegal Education.

Significant Points:
About 7 out of 10 work for law firms; others work for corporate legal departments and government agencies. Most entrants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree coupled with a certificate in paralegal studies. Employment is projected to grow much faster than average, as employers try to reduce costs by hiring paralegals to perform tasks formerly carried out by lawyers. Competition for jobs should continue; experienced, formally trained paralegals should have the best employment opportunities. Source: US Department of Labor

Paralegal and Legal Assistants - Definition and Main Facts

  • At the August 1997 ABA Annual Meeting, the ABA's policy making body, the House of Delegates, adopted the current definition of "legal assistant/paralegal", as recommended by the standing Committee on Legal Assistants. The current definition reads as follows:

    A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.

    In United States practice of law, a paralegal is person who works in the legal profession, typically as an assistant to a lawyer, and who is typically responsible for researching, analyzing, and managing the daily tasks for cases. Source: American Bar Association
  • While paralegals work closely with cases, they are limited in their duties and must be supervised by a lawyer, who will be ultimately responsible for the paralegal's work. They are found in all areas where lawyers are — in criminal trials, in real estate, in government, in estate planning, and so on. Many paralegals go on to law school and eventually become lawyers. Source: Wikipedia
  • Essentially, with education and experience, paralegals are qualified to perform legal work that is customarily done by a lawyer, and for which a lawyer is ultimately accountable. Paralegals do, however, hold the responsibility of providing accurate, concise, ethical and timely work to their supervising lawyer and their clients. National surveys indicate the following duties are most common among the responsibilities of a paralegal:

    Conduct Client Interviews
    Perform Legal Research
    Investigate Facts of a Case
    Locate and Interview Witnesses
    Participate in Court Appearances
    Write and File Petitions
    Manage Trial Dockets and Court Correspondence
    Draft Correspondence and Pleadings
    Attend and Summarize Depositions
    Attend Execution of Wills, Real Estate Closings, Court or Administrative Hearings and Trials

    Source: Center For Advanced Legal Studies

Online Information About Paralegals and Legal Assistants

  • A Paralegal By Any Other Name

    In the professional world of legal assistants/paralegals, those two terms had finally become interchangeable. People, both employers and the public, finally understood that the two were equal and that the terms described a person who could do many of the things that a lawyers could do. Even Hollywood had incorporated the terms! But what is happening today? It appears that the terminology is once again becoming blurred by a variety of sources.

  • Background and Definition - The National Association of Legal Assistants

    Definition: Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.

  • Core Competencies for Paralegal Programs - AAfPE

    In order to be a successful paralegal, an individual should possess not only a common core of legal knowledge, but also must have acquired vital critical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills. All paralegal education programs, regardless of the specialty areas they choose to emphasize, should provide an integrated set of core courses that develop the following competencies.

  • Paralegal Associations

    Paralegal associations are considered one of the network tools that bind practicing paralegals, vendors, and students in the paralegal field. These serve as a means to know about paralegals and inspire one to start a career as a paralegal. These associations encourage paralegal education to a great extent. In addition, they work along with the bar and other law organizations in the region.

  • Paralegal Definition - Arapahoe Community College

    As a paralegal (legal assistant), you might work in a variety of settings under the supervision of attorneys - in law firms, corporations or government agencies. Your tasks might include interviewing, investigation, legal research, real estate closings, preparation of legal documents, and a variety of other activities in the modern law office.

  • Paralegal Definition - Nolo

    A person who does legal work but who is not licensed to practice law or dispense legal advice. Independent paralegals (those who work directly with the public, not for lawyers) assist their customers by providing forms, helping people fill them out correctly and filing them with the proper court.

  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants - U.S. Department of Labor

    While lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often delegate many of their tasks to paralegals. In fact, paralegals—also called legal assistants—are continuing to assume a growing range of tasks in the Nation’s legal offices and perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, they are still explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties that are considered to be the practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court. One of a paralegal’s most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals may prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled. Should attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials. Paralegals also organize and track files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys.

    Paralegals and legal assistants held about 224,000 jobs in 2004. Private law firms employed 7 out of 10 paralegals and legal assistants; most of the remainder worked for corporate legal departments and various levels of government. Within the Federal Government, the U.S. Department of Justice is the largest employer, followed by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A small number of paralegals own their own businesses and work as freelance legal assistants, contracting their services to attorneys or corporate legal departments.

  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants - Wikipedia

    In United States practice of law, a paralegal is person who works in the legal profession, typically as an assistant to a lawyer, and who is typically responsible for researching, analyzing, and managing the daily tasks for cases. While paralegals work closely with cases, they are limited in their duties and must be supervised by a lawyer, who will be ultimately responsible for the paralegal's work. They are found in all areas where lawyers are — in criminal trials, in real estate, in government, in estate planning, and so on. Many paralegals go on to law school and eventually become lawyers

  • Publications - Standing Committee on Paralegals - American Bar Association

    Browse all Paralegal & Legal Assistant publications in the ABA Web Store

  • Standing Committee on Paralegals - American Bar Association

    In particular, the Standing Committee has jurisdiction over matters relating to the education, employment, training and effective use of paralegals. Within that mandate, the Standing Committee, through its Approval Commission, continues to serve as the body to set standards for paralegal education. The Standing Committee also monitors trends in the field and recommends for approval and reapproval to the House of Delegates (the ABA's policy-making body) those paralegal training programs that have met the standards and guidelines set by the ABA for quality paralegal education. In addition to overseeing its approval program, the Standing Committee also monitors trends in the field. The Standing Committee maintains an information service for those persons interested in becoming paralegals. In an average year, the staff office processes more than 6,000 requests for information and responds to numerous requests for help.

  • What is a Paralegal?

    As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, a Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.


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