Paralegals assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. They work under the supervision of an attorney. One of a paralegal’s most important tasks is helping attorneys prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals serve as support staff for attorneys through the gathering and analyzing of information relevant to court cases. They perform any function delegated by an attorney, including but not limited to the following:
· Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client
· Locate and interview witnesses.
· Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research.
· Conduct legal research.
· Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
· Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
· Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney.
The only legal services that paralegals can’t perform are presenting cases in a court, giving legal advice, setting fees and accepting cases.
A paralegal can be a freelancer or employed by an attorney or law firm or employed by a paralegal firm providing paralegals to attorneys and law firms. A freelancer paralegal charges the attorney for the work he does. If the paralegal is employed with an attorney or a law firm, he is paid a salary by the attorney or law firm. A paralegal employed with a paralegal firm is paid a salary by the firm who then bill the attorney or law firm hiring the firm. Besides attorneys and law firms, government departments, insurance companies, real estate companies and corporate also require paralegal services. Within these organizations, paralegals are responsible for a variety of areas including bankruptcy, corporate, criminal, family and labor law, litigation, immigration, intellectual property, real estate and employee benefits to name a few.
Generally, there are no specific qualification requirements for becoming a paralegal. However all paralegals in California must complete 4 hours of mandatory continuing education in either general law or in a specialized area of law. Many universities offer paralegal training programs. Most paralegals have an associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree coupled with a certificate in paralegal studies. There are professional bodies that provide voluntary certification for paralegals. Some employers train paralegals on the job, hiring college graduates with no legal experience.
A Paralegal must be able to document and present findings and opinions to the supervising attorney. Good research and investigative skills and understanding of legal terminology are essential for a paralegal.