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Definition of Paralegal
Paralegal is a term that is used in most jurisdictions to describe a paraprofessional who assists qualified lawyers in their legal work. This is true
in the United States and many other countries. However, in Ontario, Canada, paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, giving
paralegals an independent status in this jurisdiction.
Paralegals are not the same in every country. In the United States, they are not authorized by the government or other agency to offer legal services
in the same way, nor are they officers of the court, nor are they usually subject to government-/court-sanctioned rules of conduct. In Ontario,
Canada, paralegals are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are. A paralegal license allows for the paralegal to provide permitted legal
services to the public and appear before certain lower level courts and administrative tribunals.
In the United States, paralegals originated as assistants to lawyers at a time when only lawyers offered legal services. In those jurisdictions,
such as the United States, where the local legal profession/judiciary is involved in paralegal recognition/accreditation, the profession of paralegal
still basically refers to those people working under the direct supervision of a lawyer. In other jurisdictions however, such as the United Kingdom,
the lack of local legal profession/judiciary oversight means that the definition of paralegal encompasses non-lawyers doing legal work, regardless of
who they do it for. Although most jurisdictions recognize paralegals to a greater or lesser extent, there is no international consistency as to
definition, job-role, status, terms and conditions of employment, training, regulation or anything else and so each jurisdiction must be looked at
Various legal organizations offer official definitions of a paralegal: these definitions typically have slight differences. Definitions offered by major organizations include:
From the Paralegal Society of Ontario: "A paralegal is an individual qualified through education or experience licensed to provide legal services to the general public in areas authorized by the Law Society of Upper Canada
From the United Kingdom's National Association of Licensed Paralegals: 'A person who is educated and trained to perform legal tasks but who is not a qualified solicitor or barrister'.
From the American Bar Association: "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible." Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a paralegal's work rests directly and solely upon the lawyer.
From the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) [USA]: "A Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts."
From the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) [USA]: "Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney." In 2001, NALA adopted the ABA's definition of a paralegal or legal assistant as an addition to its definition.
From the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE): "Paralegals perform substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which work, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney. Paralegals have knowledge of the law gained through education, or education and work experience, which qualifies them to perform legal work. Paralegals adhere to recognized ethical standards and rules of professional responsibility."
From the United Kingdom's Institute of Paralegals: "A paralegal is a non-lawyer who does legal work that previously would have been done by a lawyer, or if done by a lawyer, would be charged for."
From the International Paralegal Management Association (IPMA) "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible." Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a paralegal's work rests directly and solely upon the lawyer."
Difference between paralegals and lawyers in the United States
The greatest differences between lawyers and paralegals are that lawyers can set fees, give legal advice, appear as counsel of record in court, and sign pleadings (and other court documents) in a representative capacity. If a paralegal attempts to do any of these acts, they will be in violation of the unauthorized practice of law statutes that exist in most U.S. states. Paralegals are responsible for handling tasks such as legal writing, research and other forms of documentation for the lawyers that they work under.
Other flop traditional differences between a paralegal and a lawyer (e.g. attorney) is that:
1. paralegal expertise/training tends to be niche, whereas a lawyer has a much broader, longer, more formal and holistic training, and
2. that the lawyer's primary job is to consider, analyze and strategize, whereas a paralegal's primary responsibility is to carry out the tasks arising from that consideration, analysis and strategy.
Paralegals are found in all areas where United States lawyers work ó in criminal trials, in real estate, in government, in estate planning. In the US, paralegals and legal document assistants (LDAs) are often mistaken for one another.
In some areas, such legal document assistants actually advertise themselves as paralegals. However, many states, including Florida, have enacted laws or bar rules which require any person referring to themselves as a paralegal to be working under the supervision a licensed attorney. This would disqualify those individuals working as "independent paralegals" from using the title "paralegal".
Difference between paralegals and notaries public
In the United States, a large percentage of paralegals and legal secretaries are also notaries public. In Canada, paralegals can become either Commissioners for Oaths (the equivalent of a U.S. notary public) or a notary public (having much broader powers than the U.S. form of notary), depending on their education and experience. This link is not necessarily the norm in other jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom for example, notaries are a distinct group, and tend to be solicitors.
Paralegals in Canada
In Canada, paralegals are legal agents who have the ability to represent on many matters, including all Provincial Offences, work for Provincial Tribunals and Boards, as well as Summary Criminal Cases. They are not "law clerks" in the province of Ontario, Canada and considered to be a formal part of the legal system. Paralegals may become Commissioners, Notary Publics and act as a Justice of the Peace.
In the Province of Ontario, a paralegal is an officer of the court (i.e. considered a formal part of the legal system). Paralegals in Ontario are licensed and regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada, which also regulates and provides licenses for all lawyers in Ontario. A paralegal license allows a paralegal to independently represent clients in provincial offences court, summary conviction criminal court, small claims court and administrative tribunals such as the Financial Services Commission of Ontario or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The role that a paralegal has in the United States is similar to the role of a law clerk or legal assistant in Ontario. Many paralegals in Ontario work in the areas of permitted practice for paralegals and also work alongside lawyers in areas of practice that are only permitted to be practiced by lawyers. It is illegal for paralegals in Ontario to independently practice in an area of law that is permitted only for lawyers. An example of this is family law, or an indictable offence in criminal law.
Education and Training
In the United States, paralegals have taken many different paths to their careers. These paths comprise an array of varying levels of education, different certifications, and on-the-job-training. They work in government, for law firms, for corporations, for real estate firms, and for nonprofit organizations. Where they work and what they do often depends on what mixture of experience, skills, education, and certification they possess.
Some paralegals have only on-the-job experience, while some paralegals have completed a two-year course or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Others have completed a bachelor's or even a master's degree in another field, and quite a few of these people have also completed a regular or post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, or have completed some semesters of law school but have not been admitted to the bar. Many paralegals have completed all of their training before entering the profession, while others have completed their education while working their way up from the mailroom in a law firm. Many paralegals take Continuing Legal Education credits to fulfill the requirements of their firm, state, or association.
Paralegal or Legal Assistant courses of study have long been available in associate's degree or certificate programs at community colleges and private universities. However, similar programs exist at four-year universities and have expanded over the years. More and more prestigious universities offer bachelor's degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates in the subject.
There is generally no requirement in states for legal assistants or paralegals. California, however, is a major exception. Up until Business and professions code 6450 was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2000, there was little, if any regulation of paralegals in the state. Thus, many people would prepare legal documents for the public (even though it is understood that paralegals are not supposed to provide services directly to the public) and call themselves paralegals. In addition to the flurry of lawsuits filed against these individuals, the paralegal profession began to be attacked. This caused the paralegal community to demand that the paralegal profession in California be regulated. Now persons wishing to become paralegals must complete a program approved by the ABA, complete a 24 semester unit paralegal program at an accredited institution or they can be grandfathered in under BPC 6450-56.
Outside of the United States, the paralegal profession is developing at a rapid rate in the UK.
The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) has been established for almost 50 years, and was launched with the blessing of the Law Society. It regulates 15,000 trainee and 7,000 practising Legal Executive lawyers through an MOJ approved regulator, ILEX Professional Standards. ILEX is open to those with or without law degrees, and allows paralegals to progress through to ultimately become fully qualified lawyers, advocates, partners and judges, subject to achieving the correct level of qualifications, skills, and experience.
The National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) was established in 1987 and is the professional self-regulatory governing body for accredited paralegals. Access into the profession can either be with a law degree or without. Those who are already graduates can take The Post Graduate Diploma in Paralegal Practice (PPC) (similar to the LPC for solicitors). Those that have no previous qualification can do the Diploma in Paralegal Studies. The NALP is an awarding body regulated by OFQUAL and is also a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (based in the US)
In the United States, there is no such thing as a licensed paralegal; rather, paralegals can be "registered," "certificated," or certified. While certification or registration is voluntary in most states, it prepares a paralegal to enter the profession; in many places it may increase the likelihood of a paralegal's hire or promotion, and serves to identify a person as capable of work that is on par with certain standards.
There are two major national organizations that offer designations to paralegals who meet voluntary regulation standards: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
NALA offers its Certified Legal Assistant examination, a comprehensive 2-day examination that awards the paralegal the "CLA" or "Certified Legal Assistant" or "CP" Certified Paralegal" designation. Both the "CLA" and "CP" designations are proprietary trademarks owned by NALA, paralegals who have attained further education and received a paralegal certificate are referred to as "Certificated" unless they have passed the examination and been awarded the "Certified" designation. Additionally, those paralegals who receive the "Certified Paralegal" designation then have the opportunity to earn the "Advanced Certified Paralegal" designation.
The NFPA offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, which is a four-hour exam on a variety of legal topics; those who pass that exam can call themselves PACE-Registered Paralegals and display the "RP" designation. NFPAís core purpose is to advance the paralegal profession and is committed to the professionís Code of Ethics.
Graduation from a certificate or degree program does not, technically, certify a paralegal; in most states, passing an exam administered by a recognized entity is the only benchmark. Many states, such as Florida, have started to legislate licensing requirements for paralegals in an effort to maintain quality and to determine who can call themselves paralegals.
Some states have considered the licensure of paralegals. Whether paralegals should be licensed or certified is one of the most important issues for paralegals today.
NALP (National Association of Licensed Paralegals) is the awarding body for paralegal qualifications, recognized as an awarding organization by Ofqual, the regulator of qualifications in England and Wales. NALP offers self-regulation and Licensing for Paralegals in England & Wales. NALP works with the Legal Services Board & Skills for Justice. NALP's objective is to raise the profile of paralegals in the UK and has dedicated itself to the promoting the status of Paralegals and paralegal training in the United Kingdom and abroad. NALP offers affordable accessible training and qualifications at all levels. NALP is a not for profit company limited by guarantee.
There are various levels of certification and membership according to the level of training, qualification and experience. To become a Licensed Paralegal a person should have an acceptable qualification in law, e.g. the Association's Diploma in Paralegal Studies, ILEX, Law Degree or HND (plus a procedural law qualification) or any other qualification deemed suitable, and who can satisfy the other criteria laid down by the Association namely: knowledge, competence, dedication, character requirements and continuous professional development.
NALPs mission is to re-enforce and increase its position as the leading professional organization catering for the Career Paralegal not only within the legal profession but also within commerce, industry and the private and public sectors and will strive to ensure the proper recognition of its Members as an integral part of the legal profession by the quality of its qualifications, professional development and the standards of behavior and its regulatory powers laid down for its Members. It will encourage, promote and develop the role and practice of the Paralegal and represent the best interests of its Members.
ILEX Since 1994 City and Guilds, in association with ILEX, has offered the UK's leading range of nationally and internationally approved qualifications for Paralegals and Legal Secretaries, which have been taken by over 20,000 people. They offer a Level 2 Award/Certificate/Diploma in Legal Studies qualification. This provides the underpinning knowledge which will help in day-to-day work and will also allows progression onto the ILEX route to becoming a lawyer. The qualification is divided into units and is assessed by way of assignments and a multiple-choice test. A Level 3 Diploma in Vocational Paralegal Studies qualification is also available, and this is equivalent to A-level standard. The qualification is divided into units and again, is assessed by way of assignments. The qualifications are also recognized by the ILEX (Institute of Legal Executives) as a route into their membership grades.
The Institute of Paralegals is the UK body setting national standards for paralegals, legal secretaries and other non-lawyer legal professionals working in the legal profession. They offer self regulation and certification for paralegals in England and Wales. On behalf of paralegals they also liaise regularly with government, The Law Society, Bar Council and others on issues of concern to paralegals, such as rights of audience, diversity, recognition of paralegals, terms and conditions, education and direct access to the Bar.
The Institute is widely recognized by, amongst others, The Law Society, Bar Council, UK government, Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Services Ombudsman. They are headquartered in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London.
A not-for-profit professional body incorporated by guarantee, they were formed in 2003. They were granted institute status by the UK government in 2005, with the support of, amongst others, The Law Society of England & Wales, the Bar Council, Citizens Advice and the Crown Prosecution Service, all of whom recognized the need for the developing paralegal profession to have a representative body.
In the United States, the median annual salary for a paralegal in the private sector is US$67,600 (as of May 2007).
Paralegals working for the U.S. federal government average over $73,000 per year while state and local government paralegals earn around $54,000. Larger law firms may pay over $100,000 annually with benefits depending on experience with starting salaries over $50,000. Starting salaries in smaller metropolitan areas, however, are about $44,000 annually.
The paralegal field is growing rapidly.
In the United Kingdom paralegal salaries in law firms can start at as little as £12,000 in some rural or suburban areas but may reach as high as £60 - £80,000 for the most senior in the larger city firms. A paralegal can also work as a freelance offering their services to solicitors performing tasks such assisting Counsel at court and taking notes in court and presenting applications to District Judges in chambers. They can be paid on a daily or hourly rate earning up to £60 - £100 per day.
The paralegal phenomenon is a legal-economics argument in all jurisdictions - they exist precisely because they are not lawyers and thus can do the work much more cheaply. Other than expertise, the main constraint on what work a paralegal can or cannot do tends to be local rules that reserve (i.e. give a monopoly to) particular activities to lawyers. Each jurisdiction tends to have its own "reserved activities list".
According to United States law there are five specific acts which only a licensed attorney can perform:
1. Establish the attorney-client relationship 2. Give legal advice 3. Sign legal papers and pleadings on behalf of a party 4. Appear in court on behalf of another (i.e. the client)* 5. Set and collect fees for legal services
*Non-attorneys, including paralegals, can appear in a representative capacity in many types of administrative hearings (that is, hearings held by administrative agencies located within the executive branch, as opposed to courts formally organized as part of the judiciary).
Beyond the five acts above, the paralegal can perform practically any other task, including legal research, legal writing, factual investigation, preparation of exhibits, and the day-to-day tasks of case management. The key is that attorneys are entirely responsible for the actions of their paralegals, and, by signing and filing court documents drafted by paralegals (or law clerks), attorneys make those documents their own.
In the United Kingdom, the Solicitors Act 1974 reserves certain activities for solicitors. Broadly, these include:
Preparing and lodging documents concerning the conveying or charging of land.
Undertaking probate law.
Undertaking litigation (except in the small claims court).
Trends in usage of paralegals
In the United States, the need for accredited qualifications and bar licensure limits the number of licensed attorneys. At the same time, there are many legal tasks for which a bar license is unnecessary but some amount of legal training is helpful. In order to lower costs, businesses may choose to employ paralegals to undertake such tasks instead of a more expensive lawyer. Paralegal time is typically billed at only a fraction of what a lawyer charges, and thus to the paralegal has fallen those substantive and procedural tasks which are too complex for legal secretaries (whose time is not billed) but for which lawyers can no longer bill. This in turn makes lawyers more efficient by allowing them to concentrate solely on the substantive legal issues of the case, while paralegals have become the "case managers."
The United Kingdom has gone one step further. Much legal work by lawyers for the poorer elements of society is legally aided, or paid for by the state. As overall costs have risen due to more people than ever engaging with the law, the government has reduced such legal aid. As a result the work has become uneconomic for many and they have ceased doing it. Paralegal advisory firms are stepping in to fill the gap.
The increased use of paralegals has slowed the rising cost of legal services and serves in some small measure (in combination with contingency fees and insurance) to keep the cost of legal services within the reach of the regular population. However, one commentator has warned that "our profession makes a serious error if it uses legal assistants only as economic tools."
Paralegal Nurse Consultants
Some attorneys who practice in fields involving medical care have only a limited knowledge of healthcare and medical concepts and terminology. Therefore, in addition to Legal Nurse Consultants, a certain number of registered nurses have become fully trained as paralegals in the manner described above and assist behind the scenes on these cases, in addition to serving as expert witnesses from time to time. There is an extremely high demand for nurses to begin with, so the demand for nurses with paralegal skills is expected to remain very high in the near future.
Several state governments have designated a "Paralegal Day", which is not the same day everywhere, in particular New York's governor David Paterson, Michigan's governor Jennifer M. Granholm, South Carolina, Idaho's governor James E. Risch and the Texas Assembly. California, Connecticut, Ohio, and Utah also have a Paralegal Day. American paralegals are also traditionally honored on St. Patrick's Day, and many employers give paralegals and legal assistants an exemption from work on March 17 so that they can celebrate the day of their patron saint.
Paralegal Service or Document Preparers
There are a variety of services available to the general public depending on our State of residence. These companies have been known as Paralegal Services until they were required to change their names. These companies are now typically known to the general public as Court Document Preparers or Court Forms Providers. The State of Florida has numerous companies that prepare court documents for a variety of issues, such as Divorce, Bankruptcy, Paternity, Custody, Modification of Child Support, Name Change, Wills, Power of Attorney, Quit Claim Deeds, etc. If you do not have the ability to remedy your situation because of the high cost fees of any attorney a Court Document Preparer can save thousands of dollars. Such document preparers, however, frequently come under the scrutiny of various state bar organizations by over-stepping the basic document preparation and engaging in what could be considered "unauthorized practice of law." Such document preparation is indeed cost-saving for those who truly want to represent themselves in a legal matter, but want to pay someone to create the required documents. If problems arise in the legal case, however, the person who hired the paralegal service needs to understand that there is typically no legal liability on the part of the paralegal service and that such institutions cannot be sued for legal malpractice. Again, the philosophy is that the person utilizing such service is representing himself or herself in all legal matters and merely hiring a document preparer.
Paralegals outside of the United States
The original concept of paralegals started with the Paralegal Association in the mid 1980's (now the National Association of Licensed Paralegals).
However, it is only recently that paralegals have begun to be seen as more than merely assistants to lawyers. They are now a newly emergent, and increasingly distinct, group of legal professionals.
Research shows there to be over 200,000 non-lawyers doing legal work in the United Kingdom. There are now almost 4,000 government registered/regulated paralegal advisory firms offering services that would previously have been offered by lawyers.
The United Kingdom actually comprises three separate jurisdictions: England and Wales; Scotland; and Northern Ireland (the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are distinct political entities as well as different jurisdictions). In the United Kingdom anyone may call himself/herself a paralegal without any qualifications whatsoever. Professional bodies such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals are lobbying for this to change, but for the present 'paralegal' is not a protected title.
Paralegals in England and Wales may offer legal advice, as may any person, as there is no offence such as the unauthorized practice of law - with three exceptions:
1. Undertaking the activities reserved to solicitors under the Solicitors Act 1974; 2. Undertaking immigration work if not registered with the Office of the Immigrations Services Commissioner; 3. Undertaking certain types of claims/compensation related work if not registered with the Ministry of Justice.
Paralegals technically have very limited rights to conduct litigation/rights of audience before courts/tribunals. In practice many appear in courts and tribunals at all levels.
Paralegals also act as Police Station Representatives if they are accredited, giving advice to clients held in police custody.
The National Association of Licensed Paralegals is working to improve recognition for paralegals and has done so for 22 years, having introduced qualifications and standards and self-regulation to the profession and is recognized by The Law Society of England as the professional body for paralegals in England & Wales.
In Scotland, the Scottish Paralegals Association has been recognized by the Law Society of Scotland as the independent professional body for paralegals in Scotland.
The Province of Ontario, Canada, recently became the first jurisdiction in North America to provide for the licensing of independent paralegals. This task will be the responsibility of the Law Society of Upper Canada (founded in 1797), which already regulates Ontario's 40,000 or so lawyers. Aspiring paralegals must complete an accredited educational program and complete a licensing exam. The Society will also be responsible for disciplining paralegals who do not conform to rules of professional conduct, known as the Paralegal Rules of Conduct.
The Province of Alberta, Canada, has no legislation in place currently that regulates paralegals. The majority of legal assistants and paralegals work under the supervision of a lawyer.
Australia has a distinct regime for the utilization of paralegals. According to one paralegal studies scholar:
The legal professionís monopoly in Australia is, however, confined to the right of appearance in a court of law and to the preparation of certain documents for reward, which leaves a vast field of legal tasks open to performance by other workers, including paralegals.
Furthermore, Australian paralegals have "little formal recognition of, or status accorded" them, yet they "require specialist education."