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.