Project for Introduction to Legal Systems covering topics such as: employment opportunities, roles of the paralegal, requirements to become a certified paralegal, the paralegal\'s day-to-day
Project for Introduction to Legal Systems covering topics such as: employment opportunities, roles of the paralegal, requirements to become a certified paralegal, the paralegal\'s day-to-day activities.
A paralegal is a person, not admitted to the practice of law, whouses his or her education, training, and work experience to assist the lawyer in delivering legal services to the lawyer’s client.Paralegals perform substantive legal work that is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.
Lawyers began using paralegals when theirclients, attentive to their profits and losses, demanded lower legal costs while still receiving the same quality service.
In order to be a successful paralegal, a person must not onlypossess a common core of legal knowledge, but s/he must also have skills that are the defining characteristics of the most successful paralegal practitioners.
First of all, there are three core attributes:Professionalism Confidentiality Self-confidence
Professionalism includes not only your behavior and your polished and poised appearance but also preventing external personal events or dislike for a client from affecting your service to the client. This is so important that there is an ethical rulerequiring paralegals to advise their employers if personal feelings might interfere with the quality of service to the client.
Confidentiality is tantamount in the legal setting. Mislaidpapers, overheard telephone conversations, or simple gossip are breeches of confidentiality in every situation and violating confidentiality causes employers to doubt an employee’s credibility.
Self-confidence is the ability to work unsupervised and gets all projects completed accurately and in a timely manner and it is vital for the success of any project.
Without these three core attributes, a paralegal’s skills can become ethically or qualitatively compromised.
There are many skills that the successful paralegal requires that fall under these broad categories:Critical thinking skills Legal research skillsOrganizational skills Legal writing skillsCommunication skills Computer skillsInterpersonal skills Interviewing and investigation skills
Critical thinking skills include:Analyzing problems byidentifying and evaluatingalternative solutions.Identify interrelationships amongcases, statutes, regulations, andother legal authorities.Applying recognized legalauthority to a specificfactual situation.
Then, there are organizational skills that include:Categorizing informationPrioritizing informationOrganizing informationUtilizing time efficiently
General communication skills require:Reading with comprehension.Writing and speaking inclear, concise, and grammaticallycorrect English.Listening effectively and accuratelyto interpret nonverbalcommunication.Using language to persuade.Tailoring the nature of the communicationto maximize understanding in theintended audience, including those withdifferent levels of education and culturalbackgrounds.
Interpersonal skills are necessary for:Establishing rapport and interactingwith lawyers, clients, witnesses,court personnel, co-workers, andother business professionals.Being diplomatic, tactful, andassertive without being aggressive.Working effectively as a team toperform quality work in a timelyfashion without being offensivelycompetitive.
Then, there are legal research skills requiring:Using resources available in astandard law library, includingcomputer assisted legal researchprograms like Lexis and West Law,to locate applicable statutes,administrative regulations,constitutional provisions, andother primary source materials.
Along with legal research skills, legal writing skills are needed to:Report legal research findings in a standardinteroffice memo or other appropriate format.Use the proper format and appropriatecontent in drafting client correspondenceand legal documents.Modify standardized forms found inform books, pleadings files, or acomputer data bank.Use appropriate citations forsources.
Computer skills include: Using the basic features of a computer assisted legal research program and other electronic resources. Using the basic features on one commonly used word processing program, database program, and spreadsheet program.
Finally, a paralegal needs interviewing and investigation skills involving:Conducting an effectiveinterview and recordingappropriate, accuratestatements.Gaining access to informationcommonly kept by governmentagencies.Preparing releases and requeststo gain access to medical andcorporate records.
With these skills the paralegal can successfully perform the typical day- to-day activities the lawyer needs to serve the interests of his or her client. Typical day-to-day paralegal activities include:
Client contactMost paralegals assist lawyers byserving as the first line ofcommunication with the client, thusfreeing the lawyer to perform otherfunctions.
Client InterviewsThe lawyer needs to knowthe facts of the client’slegal problems in order toprovide good legal service.Therefore, paralegals havespecific skills in clientinterviewing and factidentification.
Docket control Nearly every legal task has a deadline. A document must be filed with the court, a contract must be signed, or a response to a request for information is due. In the office, the paralegal is responsible for tracking deadlines and other important dates for lawyers.
Legal DraftingA paralegal is able to preparelegal documents under thesupervision of a lawyer,including drafts of pleadings,contracts, deeds, or wills forreview by the lawyer, as well asroutine legal correspondenceand inter-office memoranda.
Additionally, paralegals also have an economic role – courts havevalidated the role of the paralegal as a viable member of the legalservices delivery team by allowing paralegal to carry out many of thetasks, under the supervision of an attorney that might otherwise beperformed by a lawyer and billed at a higher rate.
These other duties include:•Assistance with depositions, interrogatories, and document production.•Summarizing depositions, interrogatories, and testimony for review by theattorney.•Drafting correspondence.•Appearing in court for uncontested matters and small probate hearings.•Signing form pleadings.•Handling personal bankruptcies.•Attending executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court oradministrative hearings and trials with attorneys.
Atypical paralegal activities depend on:•The needs of the lawyer andthe client,•The type of legal servicesprovided within the legalenvironment,•The credentials of theparalegal,•The personnel involved in thedelegation decision, and•How the paralegal is utilized.
For example, the typical duties of paralegals in the criminal defense field and litigation field are similar while their other duties vary vastly according to what duties are required in that field.• Criminal Defense Litigation• I. Pre-Trial Commencement of Action• A. Initial Interviews Discovery• B. Investigation Settlement and related matters• C. Legal Research for Pretrial Motions Pretrial Preparation• and Trial Trial• D. Assist in Development of Defenses,• Theory of Case and Trial Strategy• E. Pretrial Motions and Discovery• Responses• F. Plea Negotiations• G. Assemble File• H. Subpoena Preparation• I. Venire Investigation• J. Draft proposed direct and cross examination• questions for client and witnesses.• K. Assist attorney in preparation of defendant• and witnesses for trial testimony.• L. Attend pretrial conference with attorney.• M. Draft proposed jury instructions.• N. Coordinate appearance of witnesses• at trial.• II. Trial• Prepare trial file/notebook, including:• Second Chair Trial• III. Post-Trial• IV. Appeal
There is much required of a paralegal as he or she assists the lawyer.However, there are some tasks that a paralegal can never do. A paralegal must not perform any of the duties that only attorneys may perform nor take any actions that attorneys may not take.
Generally, most descriptions of the kinds of activities that constitute the practice of law are divided into four broad categories:
Establishing the attorney-client relationshipThe paralegal cannot suggest to the client that anattorney will or will not represent that clientbecause the paralegal then inadvertently createsan unauthorized attorney-client relationship.
The giving of legal adviceThe ABA defines the practice oflaw as the exercise ofprofessional judgment on thespecific legal problems of aclient. Clients expect that theadvice they receive comes fromsomeone with the training andexpertise to provide that legaladvice. A client who is aware of therelationship between theparalegal and the lawyer mayassume that the advice comingfrom the paralegal has beensubstantiated by the lawyer andtherefore that advice is proper,legal, and competent.
Independent Document DraftingFor example, preparing andfiling bankruptcy petitions,statements, and schedules. Inthis example the paralegalcould only fill the bankruptcyform with whatever informationthe client furnished them.
Setting legal fees The paralegal cannot agree to charge a client a specific fee as he or she does not have the experience required to consider all of the factors that comprise legal fees. The cost of legal fees is a discussion between the attorney and his or her client prior to the attorney agreeing to represent the client.
In court representationOnly a lawyer with his or her years of specifictraining in the rules of procedure and evidencethat apply to court proceedings can representanother person in court whereas any authorizedrole the paralegal has in court is comparativelymicroscopic.
Akin to the unauthorized practice of law are ethical issues. A paralegal can be unethical in many different ways:
When a paralegal is not yet competent enough assist a client in atask delegated by a lawyer, but to try and save face, he or sheexecutes that task anyway. The paralegal must inform the lawyerof his or her inexperience in a legal task before engaging in it.
A lawyer compensates a paralegalbased on the quantity and qualityof the paralegal’s work and thevalue of that work to the law firm.The paralegal’s compensation maynot be contingent, by advanceagreement, upon the profitabilityof the lawyer’s work. There is noethical prohibition against allowingparalegals to share in the overallfinancial good fortune of the firm.However, when the paralegal desires a portion of the fees the lawyercollects from the client then an ethical concern arises. Now, theparalegal’s focus is not on impartially gathering information for thelawyer but rather doing whatever it takes to make certain that theparalegal collects his or her bounty from the attorney’s collected fees.
When the interests of one client supersede the interests of anotherclient then this is an ethical issue. A paralegal must avoid any situationwhere the paralegal cannot devote all of his or her loyalty to one client rather than between two current clients or one current client and a past client.
Whenever a paralegal breeches the confidentiality of the client an ethical concern arises. Possible breeches of confidentiality includesending an email intended for the client to another person accidentally carbon copied on the message, operating any type of phone with the speaker phone activated, and informing friends or relatives about client matters.
Moving on, you should not view your current paralegal education as only one step in your legal education. Consider other education opportunities because continuing education is tantamount to the ongoing success of any paralegal.
After a student at Miller-Motte acquires his or her associate’sdegree, their next goal should be becoming a certified legal assistant offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals or NALA.
Occasionally, paralegals call themselves “certified” by virtue of completing a paralegal training course, or another type of paralegal education. However,although a school may award a certificate of completion, this is not the same as earning professional certification by an entity such as NALA. In this instance, the school’s certificate is designation of a training program. I’m not certified!?!
To be eligible to take the CLA, a paralegal must meet one of the following conditions:
Proven graduation from a paralegal program that meets NALA requirements.Have a bachelor’s degree plus one year experience as a paralegal.Have a high school diploma or equivalent plus seven years experience as aparalegal plus a minimum of 20 hours of continuing legal educationcompleted within two years prior to application to take the test.
Certification means passing the certified paralegal exam which is divided into 5 sections: •Communications •Ethics •Legal research •Judgment & analytical ability, and •Substantive law.
The CLA designation is importantbecause it assures a hiring lawyer thathe or she is dealing with anexperienced legal assistant whoperforms to a high standard and canimmediately bring experience andcapability to the practice.
NALA claims that courts have awarded higher fees to paralegals with the CLA designation, and also receive higher salaries nationwide.
NALA also offers continuing education with the CLA specialty credential for those who have “demonstrated advanced knowledge and skills in a specialty area of practice:”
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers a competing certification: the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE).
Tier One of the exam tests critical-thinking skills and problem-solvingabilities, and includes general legal questions and incorporates ethics throughout the exam. Tier Two tests knowledge of specific legal practice areas. To be eligible to take the PACE exam, the paralegal must also have a four-year degree.
Continuing education demonstrates a paralegal’s commitment to professional excellence. Nearly all of the organizations available to help paralegals havecontinuing education opportunities including NALA which has its Campus Self Study Program covering these topics:
Alternative methods of dispute resolutionAmerican Legal systemCivil litigationContract lawJudgment and legal analysisLegal ethicsLegal researchReal estateWritten communications
The NALA is just one of the many associations that exist to assist paralegals. Membership in paralegal organizations carries distinct advantages for practicing paralegals, including support, professional networks, job banks, continuing legaleducation, access to seminars, and social opportunities. Professional organizations canserve as a resource for information and news about the paralegal profession and often publish newsletters and journals. Paralegal organizations offer scholarships and discounted memberships for students.
Almost every state in the country boasts a statewide professional organization for legal assistants, as well as one or more local organizations. Usually the statewide organization will be located in the state’s capital city and the local organizations are located in the larger metropolitan areas. These organizations may not be affiliated with the state or local bar associations.
Bar association advantages and benefits:• Paralegals have a vote in decisions that affect them.• Paralegals are permitted to join bar association committees, sections, and divisions.• Paralegals have same or equivalent benefits of membership that are provided to other members of the bar association.• Paralegals are encouraged to write for publications that promote the cost-efficient utilization of paralegal services, and those publications are supported and/or published by the bar association.• Paralegal’s opinions pertaining to the role of paralegals are valued by members of the bar.
The traditional employers of paralegals are private law firms. Roughly 3 of 4 working paralegals are employed by law firms of widely varying sizes.However, over the years, pressure for efficient and low-cost legal services has opened opportunities for paralegals in:
• Corporate legal department• Banks and Insurance companies• Government (local, state, Federal)• Title and mortgage companies• Healthcare
In the private law firm, theparalegal’s role is to be an incomeproducer by bringing money intothe firm through billable hourproduction. These are the tasks thatwould, without the paralegal, beperformed by an attorney within thelaw firm.
The private law firm expects the paralegal to bring in more money throughtheir billable hours than the law firm pays them in salary, thus allowing the law firm to realize a net profit from their effort. Therefore, most law firms expect the paralegal to bring in, through billable hours, three times their gross salary.
Employer law firms range froma single lawyer to severalhundred lawyers in severalcities. The vast majority ofparalegals work for law firmswith ≤ 10 lawyers. The size ofthe paralegal staff within aprivate law firm will generallybear some relationship to thenumbers of lawyers workingwithin the firm. The averageratio of attorneys to paralegalsis about 2-to-1.