In this position, paralegal services often consist of providing support to an attorney, but a paralegal can also help clients complete important legal paperwork and they can even work independently as a freelancer for clients who cannot afford the services of a lawyer.
Working in a Law Firm
A paralegal is usually the one who is responsible for how efficiently a law firm is run. Over the years, their responsibilities will gradually increase. Those with four to five years of experience are often tasked with many of the duties that are typically handled by a lawyer. While the paralegal is limited in regard to what they can do, they do the majority of research and document preparation. Basically, behind every powerful successful attorney is a team of top paralegals.
The paralegal job description can vary and will depend on work experience, education, and place of employment. In a smaller firm, the paralegal may spend time multitasking, answering phones, filing paperwork, creating legal documents, and interviewing clients. While the litigation paralegal will spend most of their time performing a specific task whether it’s researching a case or helping to prepare a client for an upcoming trial.
Creating Legal Documentation
As we’ve mentioned, one of the most important tasks the paralegal handles is preparing legal documents. This type of paperwork can consist of shareholder agreements, court motions, pleadings, contracts, and many other types of important documents. The paralegal will be responsible for writing different legal forms and agreements. They’re also in charge of editing and proofreading documents in order to help a lawyer to craft an agreement that can be used in court.
Interviewing witnesses is one of the most interesting things a paralegal does. Depending on the case, this process can be very exciting. Research is another area that’s a critical part of the paralegal’s services. Both researching a case and interviewing a client is often delegated to the paralegal that has a degree or the most field experience. When a paralegal has a degree in paralegal studies, they are often tasked with more complex legal responsibilities.
Unfortunately, even the most experienced paralegal will be limited in regard to the types of services they can offer. In most states, the paralegal can only work under the supervision of a licensed lawyer. While there are plenty of opportunities to advance within a law firm working as a paralegal, regardless of how much experience they have, there are certain duties that a paralegal will not be able to perform.
How Important is the Paralegal?
The paralegal’s range of work is usually wide, depending on the setting, the position, and the work that needs to be done. Basically, most of their work is very detail-oriented, the work can seem tedious at times, but it’s always important.
The work the paralegal does is essential to an attorney. Because they’re usually dealing with a large caseload, attorneys simply don’t have time to complete the type of time-consuming detail work that’s required. And it’s this type of work that often wins a case. Legal cases are very complex, which is why many law firms employ a large team of paralegals. Each paralegal is assigned to a certain task, depending on their experience and whether or not they specialize in a particular area.
What the Paralegal Can and Cannot Do
The paralegal isn’t able to perform any type of task that’s considered an unauthorized practice of law, including:
- Setting legal fees
- Representing clients in court
- Providing legal advice
However, they can assist with everything else that a lawyer does.
But these rules are not set in stone and can vary by state. In some states, the paralegal will have limited authority to appear in certain types of proceedings. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, a paralegal can work preparing legal documents to provide services to the public. Generally, the paralegal is authorized to work as a document preparer under strict requirements. But the document preparer will be prohibited from providing legal advice which includes any determination or advisement regarding the appropriate forms for a specific type of proceeding.
Working as an Independent Paralegal
As an independent paralegal, because they aren’t working under the direct supervision of an attorney there are some strict limitations regarding what the paralegal is able to do. While they can’t represent a client in court they can help clients with less complicated legal matters. While providing information regarding certain legal topics isn’t against the law, the paralegal must tread cautiously regarding how the client uses the information offered.
Freelance Paralegal Services Available
The freelance paralegal is usually hired for only basic legal services. Hiring an independent paralegal is often done in order to save a significant amount of money that lawyers often charge for legal document preparation.
In order for the paralegal to work in this capacity, it must be a legal matter that the client is familiar with. This means the client must know what they want to do and what forms they need prepared. The paralegal is not allowed to recommend other documents that are needed. The paralegal cannot file the documents for the client, but they can direct them on how to record or file the document in order to prevent delays.
Some types of legal work that the paralegal can help with include bankruptcy petitions, power of attorney, probate filing, uncontested divorce forms, and power of attorney.
If a client wants to hire a paralegal for basic legal matters that don’t require legal advice, they must choose a qualified individual who has completed a paralegal certification program.