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Paralegals, besides called legal assistants, execute many of the same tasks as lawyers - the variation is that paralegals cannot do things such as argue a case in court, set legal fees, or give legal recommendation. One of the most important duties for paralegals is to help lawyers organize for, investigate, and argue a case.

Several paralegals also "keep shop" while attorneys are out. They organize incoming and case-relevant files, prepare legal documents (such as mortgages and contracts). They work in all types of organizations, though 70% of them are employed by private legal firms or practices. Many focus in areas such as labour law or personal injury law, a particular asset to a large company or firm. Most paralegals spend their working hours in libraries and offices.

Official definitions

Various definitions of a paralegal are proposed by the legal organizations; these definitions usually have insignificant differences, this definition includes:
  • 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."

  • 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."

Educational background

In the United States, paralegals have taken many different ways to their careers. These ways include a range of varying levels of education, different certifications, and on-the-job-training. They work in government offices, for law firms, for companies, for real estate firms, and for non-profit organizations.

For legal assistants or paralegals, there is not precise educational condition in various U.S. states. Various paralegals only have on-the-job practice, while some paralegals have concluded a two-year course or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Others have concluded a bachelor's or even a master's degree in another field, and quite a little of these people have also concluded a regular or post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate. Many paralegals have concluded 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. Other Paralegals take Continuing Legal Education credits to fulfil the needs of their firm, state, or organization.

In the U.S. there are many courses of study for associate's degree or certificate programs at community colleges and private universities. However, similar programs are offer at four-year universities and have extended over the years. More and more important universities offer bachelor's degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates in the theme.


In the United States, there is no such thing as a licensed paralegal; rather, paralegals can be certified. While in some states the Certification is voluntary, it increases a paralegal's ability set up or prepare him or her to enter the profession, often increases the probability of a paralegal's hire or promotion, and serves to recognize a person as competent of work that is on par with certain standards. Certification is usually accomplished by taking and passing one of numerous privately managed tests from one of several paralegal associations. Graduation from a certificate program does not certify a paralegal; in most states, passing an exam managed by a recognized entity is the only benchmark usually considered to be a "certifying event".

Many states, such as Florida, have started legislate licensing requests for paralegals, in an effort to preserve excellence and to establish who can call themselves paralegals.


In the United States the average annual remuneration for a paralegal in the private area is $50,000. In the US federal government, the Paralegals earn over $53,000 per year while state and local government paralegals receive around $34,000. Larger law firms may pay as high as $80,000 annually with benefits.


In accordance to the laws of the United States, there are five explicit acts which only a licensed attorney can execute:
  • Establish the attorney-client relationship
  • Give legal recommendation
  • Sign legal papers and pleadings on behalf of a party
  • Appear in court on behalf of another (i.e. the client - Except for a restricted number of jurisdictions, including but not restricted to Social Security cases, wherein a Paralegal can appear on behalf of the client.)
  • Set and collect fees for legal services
Outside of those five explicit acts reserved only for an attorney, the Paralegal can perform any task, including legal investigation, legal writing, preparation of expositions, as well as the ordinary day to day tasks of case administration. The key is that the attorney is completely responsible for the activities of the Paralegal and by signing documents prepared by the Paralegal; the attorney makes them his own.

Through admissions and licensing, Law schools and state bar associations, control the amount of licensed attorneys and, as economic theory would calculate, usually act to limit that number in order to increase salaries over what a really free market would produce. While the exhausting education and bar exams arguably increase the excellence of attorneys at the same time as the cost of employing one, there remain many legal tasks for which a full legal education is needless but some amount of legal training is useful.

As the cost of litigation has increasing, assurance companies and other clients have increasingly rejected to pay for an attorney to execute these certain types of tasks, and this vacancy has been filled in many cases by Paralegals. Paralegal time is usually billed at only a small part of what an attorney 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 attorneys can no longer bill. This in turn makes attorneys more competent by permitting them to concentrate only on the substantive legal issues of the case, while Paralegals have become the "case managers."

Paralegal Nurse Consultants

Several attorneys that practice in fields including medical care have only a restricted knowledge of healthcare and medical ideas and terminology. In addition to Legal Nurse Consultants, a certain number of Registered Nurses have become completely trained as paralegals in the method described above, and assist behind the scenes on these cases, in addition to serving as specialist witnesses from time to time. There is an enormously high demand for nurses to begin with, so the demand for nurses with paralegal abilities is expected to remain very high in the near future.

Paralegals and notaries public

Also paralegals and legal secretaries are commissioned as notaries public; this represents a large percentage of paralegals and legal secretaries.

Paralegals outside of the United States

The Attorneys Assistants of the United Kingdom started the original concept of paralegals; where paralegals may be established today, performing as assistants to fully qualified solicitors. In many countries, a Bachelor's degree is sufficient education to practice law, although not necessarily at the highest levels; in the U.K. further ability is necessary to act as a barrister (England) or advocate (Scotland). For the moment, in the U.S. a Bachelor's degree is becoming the standard for paralegals.

In the U.K., with many graduates finding a preparation contract hard to protected, it is now the rule for individuals who have completed the educational period of the qualifications necessary to become a solicitor to look for employment as a paralegal in order to increase the experience of working in a legal firm required to secure the training contract. Originally this was simply a way of earning money in a relevant working environment, however it is now almost necessary for a training contract applicant to demonstrate having had such employment, and many firms will only hire from their own pool of paralegals. Anyone may call him or herself a paralegal, In England & Wales, without any ability whatsoever. The National Association of Licensed Paralegals is waiting this will transform but for the moment 'paralegal' is not a protected designation. Paralegals in England and Wales may propose legal advice, as may any person, as there is no offence such as the illegal practice of law. Of course a client 'wronged' by such a paralegal may have solution in a civil court for reparation. Such paralegals have rights of audience in the small claims court. The NALP is planning to request the Department of Constitutional Affairs to obtain rights of audience in the magistrate’s court, crown court and high court and have met with fervour by the government in an offer to enlarge access to justice. Paralegals, and certainly any lay member of the public, can proceed as a Police Station Representative and provide recommendation to clients under caution at the police station.

In Canada, the Province of Ontario lately became the first jurisdiction in North America to offer for the permission of independent paralegals. This task will be the responsibility of the Law Society of Upper Canada (founded in 1797), which previously regulates Ontario's 40,000 or so lawyers. As of May 1, 2007, the Law Society will establish what types of services paralegals can propose without the supervision of a lawyer. The Society will also be responsible for disciplining paralegals who do not resign to rules of professional behaviour.