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Law & Document Clerks

Law & Document Clerks

Law
and Document Clerks in many respects can be used to describe two very different
classes of legal professional.  A law clerk is
a position where an individual performs a number of administrative duties for a
judge or judiciary, which heavy reliance on substantive work, such as legal
research, analysis, and drafting of legal
decisions.
 

In
almost all circumstances, becoming a law clerk involves having graduated from
law school with a legal degree, usually with a specified academic focus on
judicial review, and in some cases, having performing near or at the top of
their class.
  As a general rule, the process is
more selective among the higher courts, such as at the federal state and
appellate court, and are less selective in the lower courts (though, comparative
to other legal positions, they are still highly selective).
 

The firsthand observation of the
intricacies of the court are an undeniably beneficial position, as well as the
high volume of legal professionals that interact with a judge gives a promising
law clerk a potentially extensive quantity of connections throughout the legal
community.  

 While
some individuals become law clerks as a career, the positions are typically
under a limited duration, commonly a year, and serve mainly as a valuable
stepping stone for the law clerk on the path between law school and achieving a
successful career in law.

Document
clerks generally perform more common paralegal practices, usually limited to
clerical and administrative work that centers almost exclusively on the filing
of legal documentation.  Sometimes it is required of a document clerk
to have passed a local or federal civil service exam (though usually not for
positions in the private sector).    

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.

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.