What does a Paralegal do?

What does a paralegal do? As a paralegal at Bethune Enright, PLLC, sometimes I am asked what my job entails. The answer can differ, depending on a state’s rules and regulations. To start answering the question let’s first define what a paralegal is. A paralegal is defined by the American Bar Association (ABA) as:

Paralegal: A person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, government agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible (2008).

Ok, that’s a start, but let’s try to fully understand that definition. What is substantive legal work? Substantive legal work can include but is not limited to: drafting correspondence, maintaining calendars, preparing cases for court hearings, drafting documents, making and maintaining contact with clients, legal research, and attending to general office matters.  In short, paralegals assist attorneys with their work so they may focus on more detailed areas of their case load. This does not mean that the attorney will ignore you or your case. It does mean, however, there are at least two sets of eyes on documents at all times, creating a checks and balances system.

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Working with an attorney’s paralegal also helps the client because it gives them a secondary contact within the company. It also helps reduces the client’s legal cost. As a secondary contact, the paralegal can provide the client information about their case and its status. The paralegal can also take messages and relay your legal question to the attorney, who can later respond when able.

The important thing to remember is a paralegal by law is prohibited from giving the client any legal advice or legal opinions. Just like attorneys, paralegals have a code of ethics and regulations that they must follow. These rules and regulations are determined by the state that the paralegal practices in. So if you ask a question and the paralegal refuses, it is not that they are being stubborn, they just cannot violate professional rules that the states have set forth.

The important thing to remember is a paralegal by law is prohibited from giving the client any legal advice or legal opinions.

How does working with an in-house paralegal reduce client costs? Paralegals time is billed at a lower rate than your attorney’s time. The paralegals time can cost less than half of what an attorneys’ time is billed at. This is a long-term benefit, especially if a case involves litigation, discovery, or has a high volume of correspondence or research that has to be done.

Paralegals can and sometimes will be the ones who conduct the prospective client’s primary interview. They will also be the ones that gather intake information. Once all the needed information is gathered from prospective clients the paralegal then speaks with the attorneys and partners of the firm about the client and case. By law the paralegal cannot accept a client’s case into the firm, this is the attorney’s decision.  That is why the paralegal always brings all information to the partners and staff attorneys before any answer is given to the client about the acceptance of their case.

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Paralegals are here to help for both attorneys and clients alike. Paralegals want to see the best possible outcome happen for the client and case. If you are a client at a law firm, don’t hesitate to ask the paralegal any questions about their case. Much like attorneys, paralegals are also bound to confidentiality. Your secrets are safe with us. Knowing this and taking full advantage of your paralegals’ expertise not only saves the you money and can get your attorney or legal team the information they are looking for in a timely and efficient manner.

Reference: Current ABA Definition of Legal Assistant/Paralegal. N.p., 14 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.

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