Paralegals play an important role in any successful law office.
There are many ways that certified paralegals support attorneys in law firms, and help clients with their cases.
By building an efficient team, a law office can serve their clientele in the best possible way and help the law firm thrive. This article is a guide to the multiple ways paralegals can help a legal office run smoothly.
Defining the Paralegal’s Role
As adopted by the American Bar Association in February 2020,
“A 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.”
Mainly, paralegals provide legal support work for attorneys. The work must be supervised by an attorney, who is responsible for the work.
What Paralegals Can Do
Though paralegals cannot give legal advice, there are many ways they help attorneys with legal work.
- Draft legal documents.
- Communicate with clients, and conduct interviews.
- Review documents of a case.
- Collect relevant information for a case.
- Do legal research, including investigations and documentary research.
- Interview witnesses.
- Summarize depositions and hearing testimony.
- Attending depositions and hearings with the supervising attorney.
What Paralegals Cannot Do
Paralegals cannot practice law. Though paralegals may have extensive legal knowledge, they are not allowed to present themselves as attorneys or practice law. They must work under the supervision of an attorney.
A paralegal cannot give legal advice. Though paralegals may spend a lot of time talking with clients, they cannot say anything that may be construed as legal advice.
Paralegals cannot accept or reject a case. It is up to the supervising attorney(s) to take on or reject a client case.
A paralegal cannot represent clients in a courtroom. Paralegals may appear in court as part of an attorney’s team in some circumstances, but they are never allowed to represent clients in a courtroom – this is reserved for attorneys.
Paralegals cannot sign a pleading. Only an attorney may sign a pleading, or in the case of “sign by permission”, another licensed attorney.
How Paralegals Improve a Law Practice Office
Now that you know what a paralegal can and can’t do, here are the ways that they improve a law office, and help support the lawyers that work there.
1. Help with Administrative Work
Here’s a surprising fact: Lawyers only use 31% of their workday time for billable hours, according to a 2020 report by Clio. Paralegals can help attorneys clear up administrative work, so they can add more billable hours to the bottom line of the law office.
By delegating work to paralegals, lawyers in a firm can work more efficiently, focusing on their specialized work. Paralegals can interview clients, draft legal documentation, prepare motions to file, conduct research for cases, and track status of filings with the court.
2. Expedient Case Research
Legal cases often require massive amounts of research. Without this research, cases cannot move forward in a timely manner. If lawyers were tasked with doing all this work by themselves, it would take away time from their client consultations and appearances in court. Paralegals help move this process along by doing the required case research. Efficient paralegals can conduct research on federal, state, and local laws so attorneys are not bogged down in this work, allowing them to focus on their cases.
3. Take Care of Discovery
Discovery is the process where one party legally obtains information about the opposing party’s side of the case. Requested evidence and documents may need to be collected and organized for the case. Depositions may need to be taken. Written questions, known as interrogatories, must often need to be answered by the opposing parties as part of the discovery process. A paralegal, or paralegal team is often necessary to gather and organize all these documents and information in preparation for the case.
4. Increasing Stability at a Legal Firm
Sometimes, attorneys leave a legal office in order to strike out on their own or join another firm. This can cause casework to get backlogged. Paralegals can help casework keep moving forward, working under the supervision of other attorneys in the office. Short-term temporary paralegals may also be brought into a law office when casework is particularly heavy.
5. Better Client Experience
One of the big selling points of a law firm is making clients feel like they are getting the full attention of their lawyer. Paralegals play an important role in client experience at legal offices. By taking care of some of the work load each day, paralegals free up attorneys to give their clients full attention. While paralegals cannot give legal advice, they may answer some questions that clients have about their case if a lawyer is not available. This makes clients feel like they are being taken care of appropriately when they look for answers or need to speak to their attorney.
6. Financial Advantages and Profitability
Lawyers generally charge more per hour than paralegals. Attorneys must represent clients in a courtroom, give legal advice, and perform certain tasks. Paralegals earn a robust wage, but it is generally less than an attorney’s salary. Most law offices that effectively balance efficiency and profitability use a good mix of lawyers, paralegals, and sometimes legal secretaries. In fact, paralegals are often thought of as the backbone of most successful law offices as they perform a large portion of the essential work in preparation for cases.
Ethical Considerations for Employing a Paralegal
Since paralegals work under the supervision of lawyers, it is important to remember the limits of what they can legally do in legal work. Supervising attorneys must make reasonable efforts to make sure that paralegals follow professional codes of conduct. If a paralegal violates ethical or legal boundaries, it is up to the attorney to take appropriate remedial action.
Paralegals are required to follow the ethical codes of professional paralegal and legal assistant organizations such as the AAPI, NFPA, or NALA. However, paralegals are not directly subject to rules of professional conduct administered by local or regional courts, legislatures, or government entities.
In every situation, an ethical paralegal should consider the reputation of their legal colleagues and employing attorneys. Abiding in the highest professional integrity reflects well on their legal office, and breaking ethical codes is damaging to their workplace.
Interested in Becoming a Certified Paralegal in California?
If you are a California resident, you are eligible to take our fully Online Paralegal Studies program. This program helps students become a fully certified paralegal in about 25 months.
The Paralegal Studies programs at MTI College are ABA-approved, meaning your training and curriculum will be top-notch. MTI College is also accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
If you have any questions about our Paralegal Studies program, feel free to reach out our team via our Contact page or call (916) 339-1500.