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Legal Technicians, Lay Advocates, & Document Preparers

Legal Technicians, Lay Advocates, & Document Preparers

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.

Traditional Paralegals & Legal Assistants

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.

Versatility in a paralegal/legal assistant represents the ability to perform many specific tasks that represent the spectrum of duties  Paralegals/legal assistants should be able to do a collective assortment of tasks at the behest of an attorney, association, or firm, short of the specified tasks that most bar associations establish can only be performed by a lawyer. 

The paralegal/legal assistant’s main purpose is to work at the discretion of a lawyer at a number of tasks, including many that involve comprehensive research and analysis, especially in preparation for legal actions. 

They can research evidence, as well as draft affidavits, arguments, and motions that the lawyer will then rewrite or revise before presenting to the courts.  They can also work as fundamental “case managers” for particular aspects of a case, or for particular parties in a class action (though again, they are not allowed to provide legal advice), as well as be placed n charge of the clerical duties related to a particular case.

In addition to broad clerical work, paralegals/legal assistants can also draft a number of other documents, such as mortgage documents or property transfers, and they may also be in charge of keeping track of legal billing, and management of various documents and databases, especially for internal use.   

It is important to note that while paralegals/legal assistants may play a significant role in drafting legal documents, the ultimate role of signing the documents is that of the lawyer.

The other key to defining the the role of the “traditional” paralegal/assistant is that they 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.

Become an Expert on Paralegal Types

Become an Expert on Paralegal Types

As the number of paralegals have grown, the need for more generalized
paralegal work has decreased while the need for more specified work has

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 location and the general affiliations provided
by 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 specified tasks.

While specialized paralegals in certain fields are as varied as the many
assorted fields of law, it is perhaps best to focus expressly on the categories
of paralegal that are describes by the nature of their position and their

Traditional paralegals and legal assistants will represent those in the
field who adhere to the generalized role of the paralegal, as someone who works
for a single organization while performing the traditional administrative and
research tasks associated with a paralegal.

Freelance paralegals represent paralegals who break from the traditional
paradigm of working for one office, who work for a legal department office,
company or organization in the capacity of an independent contractor, who works
under a specific contract to perform either general paralegal work through or
apply knowledge and experience in a specified field of the law.

Legal document technicians, lay advocates, and document preparers are
variations on the paralegal role who perform very specified roles in their
paralegal work, limited to drafting documentation or providing limited degrees
of legal representation in administrative hearings. 

Independent Paralegals are usually perform work as part of a for hire
agency or temp agency, usually for work provided on the short term, and who
could either work in a temp or virtual capacity.

Law and document clerks usually work in a far more restricted capacity
that paralegals, and specifically often work for the court or some other form
of the public sector.

All of these categories cover the broad spectrum covered by paralegal
and legal assistant classifications, and it is best to go into each of them, in

Freelance Paralegal At A Glance

Freelance Paralegal At A Glance

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.  Typically, this is because the paralegal has privileged experience in a type of legal expertise or manner of case that the organization typically does not operate in. 
Paralegals often do not operate on a contract basis, but on either a salary or billing cycle, meaning that they can be terminated by an organization at any given time. 
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.  
For instance, if a firm is involved in a civil action that involves a need for environmental law and related research, they may hire a paralegal with experience in environmental work for a short period to help with research in that direction or take advantage of the paralegals preexisting knowledge of statutes and precedents in the field.
However, the paralegal will not be used for any fundamental legal strategy, as that falls exclusively under the auspices of a lawyer.
Freelance paralegals are not the same as independent paralegals.under an attorney’s supervision, while independent paralegals usually work independently from an attorney’s supervision.  
Freelance paralegals can be associated with agencies who specialize in placing freelance paralegals, or they can be autonomous.  
Paralegal duties contracted may not always be on a full time basis, which is another condition why an organization may seek freelance help, provided they can guaranteed a contracted commitment on their end to the freelance paralegal. 

Independent Paralegal Role and Responsibility

Independent Paralegal Role and Responsibility

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.
In a sense, the term is commonly used in reference to paralegals who work for more than one institution or work on their own.  Freelance paralegals represent independent contractors who are signed for a term or duration to a company, firm, or attorney, but do not represent a full time employee.  In all instances, they work under the direct supervision of an attorney, and not independently. 
The phrase independent paralegal has also been used in reference to individuals who perform legal tasks short of those that can only be performed by a lawyer.  Independent paralegals would usually work toward the tending of other services, usually in the capacity of helping individuals who have sought to defend themselves in legal proceedings or who required document processing to be performed on their behalf.
Because paralegals are unregulated in almost all jurisdictions, they used to be allowed a certain amount of legal leeway in the tasks that could be performed.  Essential to these restrictions has been forbidding the use of the world “legal” for positions that lie outside of an attorney’s direct supervision.  semi-regulated in California and Washington state, and lay advocates, who can help individuals represent themselves in court within a very restricted capacity.
On the whole, actual independent paralegals are a thing of the past, but the phrase became so ingrained in the lexicon that it is often used as a broader classification for different form of paralegal, and for the time being, the name seems to have stuck.