The most succinct description of a paralegal and his/her duties is simply to say that a paralegal provides support to attorneys. Think about the breadth of that simple statement for a moment! It’s probably easier to completely describe what a paralegal’s duties are not than what they are!
A paralegal may not appear in open court on behalf of a client, may not sign pleadings, and may not render legal advice to clients! Everything else that a lawyer does is potentially a supporting “duty” subject to delegation to and performance by a paralegal – if assigned by a supervising attorney.
Under the direction and supervision of an attorney, a paralegal performs a variety of tasks and resolves numerous routine legal issues. He or she researches and analyzes law from sources such as statutes, reported judicial decisions, legal articles, treatises, constitutions, and statutory codes. Paralegals draft legal documents, such as briefs, pleadings, motions, appeals, wills, trusts, deeds, titles, and contracts – all of which should be carefully reviewed by the supervising attorney.
Paralegals must be familiar with the various legal doctrines, concepts, principles, practices, and procedures of the particular field of law applicable to each work assignment because a paralegal’s work duties are almost the same as those of an attorney.
The attorney is responsible for carefully reviewing every aspect of a paralegal’s work. When a supervising attorney signs his or her name to a pleading, brief, letter, or other document prepared by a paralegal, he or she adopts it as if it were their own and is just as responsible for every bit of the content as if it had been completely prepared by the attorney rather than the paralegal.
The particular duties of a given paralegal will change depending upon the scope of each employer’s definition or job description for paralegals. It would be virtually impossible to expect any single paralegal to completely and competently perform all the various functions potentially assignable to a paralegal. The vast number of potential functions that could qualify as paralegal duties make a clear and unambiguous understanding of each employer’s particular expectations and requirements essential for enjoying a successful paralegal career.
In any given setting, whether it be a law firm, corporate law department, or government agency, a paralegal may be assigned duties searching, or checking, public records; interviewing clients and witnesses; collecting and analyzing information from various sources, reviewing medical records, drafting summons, briefs, pleadings, legal documents, summarizing depositions, drafting interrogatories, subpoenas, other discovery documents, and organizing case files.
Along with recognition of its professional status, the paralegal career comes with its own distinct set of professional duties and responsibilities associated with the career. The paralegal has a duty to maintain professional competence by participating regularly in continuing education, a duty not to engage in the unauthorized practice of law or provide legal services directly to the public unless specifically permitted by law, and a duty not to undertake other ethically or legally prohibited activities such as rendering legal advice or setting legal fees.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited May 22, 2012).
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