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What is a Paralegal?

The term, or title, 'Paralegal' has caught on within the legal profession and is now used almost exclusively to describe fee earners or part fee earners amongst unadmitted staff who are not legal executives. 'Paralegal' and 'Legal Assistant', as titles, are synonymous.

Paralegals are people qualified through education and training to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of the law and procedures. They are not a qualified solicitors or barristers.

Paralegals may work for, or be retained by solicitors within the legal profession or work within a legal environment within companies, commerce, industry or the public sector.

They help lawyers in their work and perform some of the same tasks as lawyers. Paralegals do research to make sure that lawyers know all of the important facts.

What paralegals do depends on where they work. Generally, they look laws and past cases up, and then write reports that lawyers use to help prepare their current cases. They also keep track of the documents related to the case.

Nature of the Work: Paralegals/Legal Assistants

The lawyers that you will be working for will assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, but they will be delegating many of their tasks to you as a paralegal.

You will assume a large range of tasks in legal firms and legal departments and perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, you are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be the practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court unless you have the authority to do so by your qualifications.

Duties may include helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. You may also be called upon to investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered.

As part of your tasks, you may be called upon to identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases.

After analysing and organising the information, you will be expected to prepare legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials as well as written reports that may be used in determining how cases should be handled.

You will also be responsible for organising and tracking files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys.

Depending on the nature of your assignment, other documentary duties may be helping draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements, preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates. Other administrative duties may include coordinating the activities of other law office employees and maintain financial office records. Software packages and the Internet are used to search legal literature as a tool. Litigation involves many supporting documents and paralegals usually use computer databases to retrieve, organise, and index various materials. In many firms, imaging software is used by paralegals to scan documents directly into a database, while billing programs are used to track hours billed to clients. Software packages are also used to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of various tax strategies for clients.

Paralegals are found in all types of organisations, but most are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices. Paralegals can therefore be seen working in areas such as Financial Services, Insurance, Banking, Building Societies, the Retail Sector, Credit Control, Export, Entertainment and the Media, etc. In the Public Sector are Government Departments, Local Authorities, Court and Tribunal Staff, Welfare, the Probation Services, Social Services, the Police and the like.

In these organisations, they can work in many different areas of the law, including litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, conveyancing, intellectual property, employment law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.

As the various areas of law become more complex, paralegals become more specialised. Within these specialties, functions are often broken down further. For example, paralegals specialising in employment law may concentrate exclusively on employee benefits. In small and medium-size law firms, duties are often more general.

The tasks of paralegals differ widely according to the type of organisation for which they work. A corporate paralegal often assists attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial reports, maintain corporate minutes' record resolutions, and prepare forms to secure loans for the corporation. Corporate paralegals often monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new requirements and is operating within the law. Increasingly, experienced corporate paralegals or paralegal managers are assuming additional supervisory responsibilities such as overseeing team projects.

The duties of paralegals that work in the public sector usually vary by departments. In general, litigation paralegals analyse legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, and collect and analyse evidence for hearings and other matters. They may prepare informative or explanatory material on laws, agency regulations, and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public.

Everyone who assists a qualified lawyer may be considered to be a paralegal. Many individuals have further specialist training and are recognised as Legal Secretaries, or Trainee Legal Executives, or are referred to as Legal Assistants. Some of our vacancies you will find on the job board, but whatever legal experience you have please register with us - we pride ourselves on being proactive and will search for a job to match your experience. We will also add you to our database of paralegals which will enable us to keep you up to date with the latest paralegal vacancies.