Legal technicians, lay advocates, and document preparers are all different variations on the paralegal profession, 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.
Legal technicians and document preparers are usually referred to professionally as Legal Document Assistants, or LDAs, which is the official title given to individuals offering these services in California, the only state where the practice is regulated.
However, independent paralegals used to provide the services offered by LDAs in many states before they were outlawed by federal law in the early 1990s, so many still confuse the two profession.
LDAs, like paralegals, are restricted from performing services that fall under the exclusive domain of a lawyer, such as offering legal advice or representing an individual in court.
Nearly always, the individual is representing themselves in some form of legal matter. LDAs are more prominent in the western part of the United States, and are often found to be exclusive to California and Washington state.
Lay advocates are used in very rare contexts, typically when a legal situation involves a victim of a crime who, because of trauma, needs assistance in representing his or herself in a legal matter.
Lay advocates are not attorneys, and are thus unable to provide to provide direct legal advice, nor are they able to sign legal documents or act as an officer of the court.
They are limited in document preparation to helping an individual prepare a document on their own, and they are not allowed power of signature for whom they represent.
Like LDAs, lay advocates are not paralegals, because they are not privy to the same restrictions that paralegals have placed upon them, specifically as it pertains to attorney oversight.