What is a Paralegal or Legal Assistant? by Amy Nutt

You've probably heard the word being used, but if you don't understand what exactly a paralegal is or does, you aren't alone. This article will explain everything you need to know about the profession.

Just What is a Paralegal?

Another title for paralegal is "legal assistant" and this is perhaps more revealing. It usually requires two years of studying to become a paralegal and these two years allow the person to do many of the more mundane tasks that a lawyer would normally undertake. While not an actual lawyer, the assistant is legally allowed to perform some of the same work.

You'll often see ads for this type of work, since lawyers often hire a paralegal to work in their office. Larger law firms will have several working, each one taking on the jobs from several lawyers.

What a Paralegal Does

The work that is done by a legal assistant is varied. Essentially, the assistant is helping out a lawyer, or often several lawyers, by taking over some of the repetitive jobs or things that would be a waste of time for the higher paid professional. It's still a good way to earn money, but without all the schooling required to become an attorney.

Let's look at what a paralegal cannot do first. They cannot do anything that would be considered practicing law, including: Giving legal advice Setting fees Acting as counsel in a courtroom

That being said, there is a vast area of tasks that are legally allowed and these are where the legal assistant will focus his or her attention while working for a law firm. The majority of this involves work that a lawyer could do but simply doesn't have time for.

Investigations are the primary area of need. Finding witnesses, looking for previously decided court cases similar to the one at hand, and doing all manner of research involved in court cases is something that the attorney will not usually be involved in. So, they turn this work over to their assistants.

In addition, all the paperwork that goes along with these investigations will be taken on by the paralegal. This involves typing up reports, preparing court motions and even working on contracts and agreements that will later be approved by the lawyers.

What a Paralegal Needs to Know

While not actually a lawyer, the paralegal will be studied in court procedure since he or she will often be present during cases to provide the correct paperwork and reports for the attorney. This is a great help, since the attorney can focus on the actual presentation and the papers and reports are handed to him or her as needed, in the correct order. This requires an extensive knowledge of how everything works in the courtroom, from court motions to draft pleadings, all of which are taught during those two years.

The majority of the work that a paralegal does is paperwork. While this could be boring, it does involve some interesting cases and requires understanding most of the legal proceedings that will occur. This is the part that can be challenging and interesting and is the main reason people choose this profession.

Paralegals are a very important part of the legal system. Without them, lawyers would be required to do all the grunt work themselves and this would leave very little time for taking statements and prepping witnesses for the actual court cases. It's a job that requires skill, training and the ability to work hard and accurately. It's not for the faint of heart, but many people enjoy the challenge.

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