Can a Paralegal Handle the Same Cases as a Lawyer?

By: Anutt
The term 'paralegal' began to emerge around the late sixties. At that time, the public demand for legal solutions was growing rapidly. As such, law firms were experiencing a tremendous increase in their workloads, and they were seeking the aid of people who could do administrative tasks for them. Such people were given the designation of paralegals.

What is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is a person who does administrative work for a lawyer, and he is under the direct supervision of the lawyer. This person must be academically qualified, and he must have the necessary training and work experience to assist a lawyer in the provision of legal services. It is also required that a paralegal has an extensive knowledge of the legal system.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Paralegal

The duties and responsibilities of a paralegal are somewhat similar to the tasks of a lawyer. However, a paralegal does not practice law, and he is strictly prohibited to do so. Ordinarily, a paralegal works together with a lawyer to make preparations for court cases. While making preparations, a paralegal may reveal all the facts that are gathered to support the case, and perform research to draw attention to certain laws and court decisions that pertain to the nature of the case. A paralegal may be working for a lawyer, in a government agency, in a law office or in any other organization that has the authority to carry out legal work.

Differences Between a Paralegal and a Lawyer

Unlike a lawyer, a paralegal is not allowed to give any legal advice nor can he represent a certain client in court. Also, he cannot appoint legal fees or accept a case. While a paralegal can author and sign a legal correspondence, it should be clearly stated that the correspondence does not include any independent legal judgment or advice. In contrast, a lawyer who is considered the legal representative of a client has the sole right to handle and represent a certain client in court. A lawyer takes charge of a paralegal, and he is accountable to the client for the excellence of the legal services and advice delivered.

What does a paralegal do to assist a lawyer?

A paralegal's work is actually part of an attorney's work. He helps in locating and conducting interviews with witnesses or clients. A paralegal is allowed to conduct interviews with clients and uphold contact with them for as long as they are informed of the paralegal's functions and that the work is under the supervision of the attorney. He can also conduct investigations and research, as well as draft legal documents, write letters, and sum up affidavits and testimonies. Another responsibility of a paralegal is to prepare details or information for the supervising lawyer to facilitate decision making on how a certain case should be litigated. He can also be present at real estate closings, executions of wills, affidavits, court or administrative hearings and trials in the company of the attorney.

In summary, a paralegal is a person who assists and provides support for a lawyer in the delivery of legal services. A paralegal does not have the authority to grant any legal advice to clients who are in need of legal services. Legal advice and services are only acceptable if they are specified by a lawyer. All states in the United States of America require lawyers to have a license, and there are laws that will inflict penalties for the unauthorized and illegal practice of law. Therefore, a paralegal cannot handle cases like lawyers, simply because they are not authorized by the law to do so.
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