Paralegals are an important part of a legal team, as they handle a number of tasks on behalf of the attorney they work for. While paralegals are not lawyers, they do possess skills that allow them to assist in a variety of legal matters.
Not only that, but most of them have at least an associate degree in paralegal studies and are, therefore, well-versed in law. So, what can a paralegal do without an attorney? That’s what this article aims to answer.
Duties a Paralegal Can Perform Without an Attorney
For starters, we need to underscore that paralegals aren’t the same as legal assistants, even though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The most notable difference is their level of education.
Usually, the position of legal assistant requires only a high school diploma. On the other hand, for someone to become a paralegal, they should have an associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor’s degree in any subject combined with a paralegal certificate.
What these two professions have in common is that both legal assistants and paralegals are limited in the tasks they can perform at a law office. However, there is a number of duties paralegals are allowed to carry out without an attorney. Read on to find out what they are.
Organizing and Maintaining Files and Documents
Working on legal cases requires a lot of paperwork. And since attorneys usually don’t have time to organize and maintain files and documents, it’s up to the paralegal to support the attorney by making sure everything is up-to-date and in order.
Paralegals should possess superb analytical skills, given that one of their duties is analyzing lots of data. They go through tons of documents, review and proofread them. Approaching those documents critically is essential, as they may even discover evidence, such as contradictions in an adverse witness’ statement that could help the client.
Drafting Legal Documents and Filing Them With the Court
Paralegals assist lawyers in legal document preparation. This usually involves drafting affidavits, subpoenas, complaints, deposition notices, and so on. A paralegal is also authorized to file legal documents with a court.
Researching Case Law and Legal Precedent
A requirement for someone to become a paralegal is to be skilled at conducting legal research, as this is one of the ways paralegals help attorneys. Since the law is constantly being updated, any argument the attorney makes and any legal action they plan to take needs to be backed up by research to ensure it’s done in accordance with the law.
Attending Court Hearings
Paralegals can attend court hearings as long as they don’t represent the client or act on their behalf. This is usually done to take notes during the hearing and help the attorney prepare for the next legal action.
Speaking With Clients
The paralegal doesn’t actively participate in the first meeting with the client. That’s when the attorney gathers information about the client’s legal issue. However, it doesn’t mean the paralegal isn’t present during the meeting.
They are typically there to take notes in order to be prepared for future conversations with the client and to become familiar with the details of the case. After that, they remain in contact with the client and answer any legal questions they might have, although this doesn’t involve the paralegals giving legal advice.
It’s not only the attorney who can talk to witnesses. Some of the paralegal tasks involve locating witnesses, interviewing them, and taking statements from them.
Paralegal vs. Attorney: Duties Only Attorneys Can Perform
On the other hand, there’s a set of tasks reserved only for the attorney. Paralegals can’t represent clients, give legal advice, determine fees, take depositions, or sign legal documents. If a paralegal were to do this, it would be considered unauthorized practice of law.
Can You Hire an Independent Paralegal Instead of an Attorney?
Independent paralegals are independent contractors who offer paralegal services.
Like paralegals in general, they can’t exactly practice law, but they are able to offer some help to individuals without giving legal advice. Although their power is limited, such paralegals can be useful to those seeking to represent themselves in court. They may also be hired by attorneys on a freelance basis.
All in all, a paralegal is a valuable asset to an attorney, as they help lawyers with a number of tasks, from document drafting to research. However, there are certain things that are not part of paralegals’ scope of work, such as giving legal advice or representing clients in court.