The role of a paralegal is invaluable for a busy attorney. As an important part of the legal industry, paralegals handle a variety of tasks and provide support for their attorneys. By the definition of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), a paralegal is someone who “performs substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which work, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney.” With their varied background, a paralegal can help a law office to run smoothly and are, in a way, an unsung hero in the legal profession.
A paralegal’s work is similar to that of lawyers, except with the following limitations: they are not allowed to dispense legal advice, conduct trials, or accept legal fees. Day-to-day tasks of a paralegal will constantly change, but in a broader sense, their work involves helping lawyers to prepare cases for trial and uncovering all the facts of the case. Much of their work centers around writing reports and drafting legal documents for litigation. Legal cases require a supporting foundation based in both federal and local laws, and sifting through such information is a gargantuan task that would, without assistance, hold up legal proceedings if lawyers had to do it themselves. Given a paralegal’s limitations, the tasks performed by them gives attorneys the time to dedicate to more complex aspects of their cases.
Different practice areas of law apply to paralegals as well as lawyers, and these specializations will influence the kinds of duties performed. Paralegals working in areas such as patent and copyright, real estate, and corporate law will assist in drafting contracts, mortgages, estate planning, and separation agreements. Those working in government agencies are responsible for maintaining reference files and analyzing research material for internal use.
In the setting of a busy practice, having a paralegal on the team can help provide a better client experience. Attorneys who have become overloaded on the detail work for their cases cannot give their clients the one-on-one time that they need, and working with a paralegal has at least two major benefits: it frees attorneys up to meet with clients and offers an alternative should the attorney be unavailable. While paralegals can’t practice law or give legal advice, they can still answer questions and address certain client needs.