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Defining Paralegals

Overview of Paralegal Work

Overview of Paralegal Work

Defining Paralegals:
Paralegals exist throughout the world in a number of different legal systems, but there is no set standard by which a paralegal is classified, as the job entails varying levels of responsibility, training, and even regulation. Paralegals exist almost everywhere law is practiced, in both the public and private sectors; they are members of law offices, legal firms, temp agencies, corporations, real estate firms, and even independently, and they work in every category of law, including criminal. The history of the paralegal industry goes back only since about the 1970s, but its importance to the legal industry cannot be overstated, as it represented a major shift in the way law was practiced, and served to stabilize the ballooning costs associated with the legal industry.
Due to being a largely unregulated profession (though where it is regulated, it is strictly regulated),   Therefore, there are many different kinds of paralegals.  Individuals are able to pursue various routes to becoming a paralegal, but because there is often no formal licensing procedures for paralegal, a degree is not a prerequisite for employment. Paralegals perform numerous duties all throughout the legal industry, though there are many precise jobs that paralegals across most organizations and environments will likely be required to to do with considerable ability in order to excel at their profession.
The workplace of a typical paralegal often is dependent on the nature of the firm or organization, specifically its size, the nature of law performed, the duties that are required to be performed of the paralegal, and numerous other variables. 
Paralegals have been around in earnest only since the 1970s, when the rise of multinational corporations as well as the growth in high volume law firms caused a systematic increase in pools of administrative employees, as well as less of a need for numerous lawyers demanding high end salaries to do very basic, niche work.  However, the relative lack of consistent training requirements
Since legal departments and organizations assume many different shapes and sizes, the nature of paralegal work can also be classified by the extent of work performed, as well as the precise affiliations and levels of oversight granted to the paralegals.  Though the trend does remain for many paralegals to become specialized within certain fields of work, many still find it to their advantage to be extremely flexible to the kind of positions they will try to undertake, while others may find it within their interest to engage and excel in very few specified tasks…

Traditional Paralegals & Legal Assistants:
Traditional paralegals and legal assistants can be a very broad category, but they generally represent the most common classification of paralegals and legal assistants.  that could be and generally are performed by a paralegal. Affiliation refers to the fact that most paralegals often boast a fairly stable affiliation with one attorney, company, firm, government agency or so on.  Traditional paralegals and legal assistants can work in a broad category of companies, from corporate offices to government agencies, and within each these organizations their tasks are ultimately specified to the needs of the organization.
Freelance Paralegals:
Freelance paralegals differ from traditional paralegals/legal assistants not in the nature of the tasks that they perform, but in the nature of their employment.  Just like any other form of paralegal, a freelance paralegal works at the discretion of an attorney or supervising group within the company, and does not operate autonomously within the organization.  Since paralegals typically cost far less than a lawyer, however, it is usually much more financially viable to hire a paralegal for a temporary circumstance than try to acquire the consulting services of a specialized lawyer at a far higher rate…

Legal Technicians, Lay Advocates, & Document Preparers:
Legal technicians, lay advocates, and document preparers are professions that are somewhat similar to paralegal, where work is provided that is similar to those provided by an actual lawyer, but often with very specified limits placed upon it.  Therefore, while some of these positions can be legally offered by a paralegal in one jurisdiction, it would be illegal for them to perform the service in another.  Lay advocates provide limited representational services to an individual in official legal proceedings, though they are not recognized as officers of the court and should not be recognized as such…

Independent Paralegals:
The classification of “independent paralegals” is one rarely used upon today, mainly because it can be overly broad and contradictory, and in some cases represents a position that in most jurisdictions is illegal to hold.  This can have a number of different meanings, and therefore, being an independent paralegal can be applied to a number of situations where a more precise classification is required.  However, the phrase became so ingrained in the lexicon that it is often used as a broader classification for different forms of paralegal, and for the time being, the name seems to have stuck…
Law & Document Clerks:
Law and Document Clerks in many respects can be used to describe two very different classes of legal professional.  Unlike most paralegal positions, becoming a law clerk is extremely selective, with the benefits of experience being extremely lucrative and advantageous to prospective lawyer.  Document clerks often work in the public sector for a branch of government, though they can be found in the private sector, and are usually involved with the filing and processing of legal documents with the court.
Unlike lawyers, who are required to pass state bar exams in order to practice law, paralegals are generally unregulated by most jurisdictions. This means that there are no set standards for which all institutions that hire paralegals (which include everything from a single office to a giant corporation) require a specific level of education, because it almost always is left up to the discretion of the individual or company doing the hiring.  However, nearly all experts agree that as the field grows, the means by which employers stratify and categorize the suitability or outright “attractiveness” of potential hires is going to get more and more specialized…
Basic Qualifications:
The qualifications required of a paralegal can vary dramatically throughout the legal industry, for three specific reasons.  Second, a multitude of different organizations, in both the public and private sector, hire paralegals, and many of these organizations work toward different ends and in different facets of the law.  However, there are specific qualifications that an aspiring paralegal should try to meet before they try to gain work as a paralegal, many of them fundamental skills that can be utilized anywhere in the legal profession…
Formal Paralegal Education:
Aspiring paralegals can pursue a degree in paralegal studies, or they can restrict themselves to a course in certification that may be condensed over a period of a few weeks.  But what is generally accepted is that while the paralegal industry is prosperous and expected to grow dramatically in the next decade, that stratification of income levels throughout the industry is bound to happen, and much of this will be predicated, inevitably, on levels of experience as well as education.

ABA Approval Process:
Due to the varied means by which one can pursue training to become a paralegal, the American Bar Association has set upon a course of approving institutions and programs which provide training to perspective paralegals. The ABA has  In recent years, the ABA has extended this process to paralegal programs, which has been and important step in trying to standardize the educational avenues available to perspective paralegals.

American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE):
Initially founded in 1981, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) has set out to become the leading oversight body of paralegal education programs, to a level more ambitious than that of even the American Bar Association because of its increased focus on achieving a level of standardization, not just accreditation.   This involves a set core of legal knowledge, which includes emphasis on research, organizational, and communication skills.

Paralegal Professional Associations:
Paralegal professional organizations provide a level of leadership and help to provide members of the paralegal with a greater voice for their role in the legal community, as well as help facilitate means of continuing education, promoting industry awareness, and even certify members, which can improve their standing in the marketplace.  The core principles of the NALA is to promote recognition of paralegals, promote ethical standards within the field, and to involve themselves in issues that directly effect members of the paralegal profession.

Almost any organization that trains paralegals or legal assistants offers some credentials that the paralegal has achieved a certain level of knowledge in their field (especially with that credential takes the form of an associates or bachelors degree).  Where the acquiring of credentials become beneficial is when the prospective paralegal has no actual degree in the field, then passing a certification exam can become vital to establishing to an employer that the applicant has a certain degree of knowledge in the field.

In nearly all states, paralegal registration is not required with any government affiliated agency, because the paralegal profession as a whole is subject to very little oversight.  In these regards paralegal registration is a means of empowerment to the profession and a means of establishing paralegals’ commitment to their occupation. Paralegal registration also often proves to be a valuable networking tool, especially in the Internet age, with many websites providing sites where paralegals can come together, keep in touch with one another,

Certification in the paralegal profession usually refers to any means by which a paralegal or legal assistant has sought to establish, through the oversight of a professional organization, that they have acquired and can exhibit the skills needed to perform the duties associated with the job of paralegal.  Though it is not a prerequisite for employment in most employment situations, it is a valuable means by which a paralegal can establish themselves as an attractive candidate for employment.  It is simply a means of measuring competence and ability, not a means by which to qualify for employment…

Licensing is a concept that is still fairly foreign in the paralegal profession, with the only state so far requiring full scale paralegal licensing is California, which is mainly in place to regulate Legal Document Assistants.  Given the important part paralegals play in the modern legal profession, and given how vital the rule of law is the organization of any society, there are some who consider the open and deregulated nature of the paralegal industry an ethical breach in and of itself, even a potential disaster waiting to happen.  
Without Supervision of an Attorney:
The desire for some paralegals and paralegal representative organizations to operate outside the supervision of an attorney has played a core role in the debate of whether there should be widespread licensing of paralegals.  An argument for this is that licensing can do a far better job regulating the standard of paralegals entering into the industry, allowing this improved standard of paralegal services to be able to operate more autonomously.  Therefore, even some parties that are for licensing of paralegals still recommend that attorney supervision remain a core part of paralegal regulation…
With Supervision of an Attorney:

Since paralegals are often unlicensed, and thus unregulated, they are usually defined in somewhat reductive terms, mainly in the means by which their actions in the legal industry are restrained and restricted.  The central belief behind this mandate is that attorneys are licensed, having passed a local bar exam, and are ultimately responsible for the strategy implemented that directs paralegals.  It is this issue of attorney supervision that plays a key part in the debate over whether paralegals should be licensed or not…
The duties for which a paralegal can be called upon can be extremely extensive and varied, as the paralegals on a whole form a diverse marketplace.   Paralegals are also found in many different organizations: from regular law firms, to government offices, to corporate legal departments, to real estate agencies, to non-profit groups, and so on.  These tasks invariably involve communication with clients, 
Contact with Clients:
Depending on the organization and the scenario, paralegals may be required to interact often with clients or be restricted in their interaction with clients.  However, it is otherwise fairly common for paralegals to interact with clients on a fairly administrative basis, provided they do not assume to take on the role of lawyer, and maintain in their relationship with a client the understanding that they are paralegals only, which means that they are required to make full disclosure of their role, as necessary…
Usually the greatest burden the paralegal has been charged with relieving from attorneys since the genesis of the occupation has been that of research.  This means they must be able to examine a document and ascertain its most pertinent elements and examine them critically; then, they must be able to figure out how to use them as part of a larger argument or counterargument…

Understand the Role of a Paralegal

Understand the Role of a Paralegal

Paralegals exist throughout the world in a number of different legal systems, but there is no set standard by which a paralegal is classified, as the job entails varying levels of responsibility, training, and even regulation, depending on what part of the world the position is available.
In the United States, paralegals are also commonly known as legal assistants, and that may be the best universal classification of the position: as someone who provides assistance to a lawyer, legal practice or department, though to a degree short of actually practicing law.  Since they are not lawyers, they are forbidden by nearly all bar associations from providing consulting services for the dispensation of legal advice, they are not allowed to set legal fees, and they are forbidden from serving as officers of the court, meaning that they are forbidden from arguing a case at a trial or other legal proceedings.
As a rule, to become a paralegal involves a great deal less legal training than that of a lawyer.  In some areas, a degree is not even required, only proof of certification through the taking of an exam or adult learning course. Their education is often limited to the classification and reading of legal materials, and does not entail study of broader theoretical concepts and extensive knowledge of material that accompanies a law degree.  Generally, paralegals are not licensed, and the acquiring of certification or various degrees is done in the interest of making them more desirable candidates for employers.
Paralegals generally engage in a lot of supporting work for a lawyer, usually in the time consuming tasks of researching and drafting of legal documents.  Often the work can entail clerical duties such as the filing and organization, but typically their work falls under the description of “substantive,”  In perhaps the broadest terms, their work is directed under the authority of a supervising lawyer, and anything that the lawyer requires of them, short of the performing the aforementioned tasks of a lawyer, a paralegal is expected to be able to accomplish.
Paralegals exist almost everywhere law is practiced or assisted, in both the public and private sectors; they are members of law offices, legal firms, temp agencies, corporations, real estate firms, and even independently, and they work in every category or law, including criminal.