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.