Defining a Paralegal
A paralegal's responsibilities include tasks that would otherwise be performed by a lawyer. There is no universally accepted definition of a paralegal. Some employers create a job description based on the specific educational qualifications and levels of work experience they seek. But there are no formal requirements. Other definitions attempt to provide a comprehensive list of paralegal duties. Still other definitions describe specific skills and competencies required of paralegals.
None of these definitions is completely satisfactory because lawyers and clients use paralegals in many different ways. There is no “one size fits all” definition of a paralegal. In fact, the bar associations in many states have their own definitions, some preferring the term
Paralegals are sometimes called “legal assistants.” The dispute over what to call these legal professionals has divided three of the most influential organizations in the paralegal profession. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) prefers the term legal assistant. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) uses the term paralegal, while the American Bar Association (ABA) considers the terms interchangeable.
Even with all these variations, the several definitions of paralegal share some important features:
A paralegal does not practice law, although some administrative agencies allow paralegals to appear before them without a lawyer.
A paralegal has specific legal knowledge acquired through education, training, or work experience.
A paralegal uses this legal knowledge to perform substantive legal tasks under the supervision of a lawyer.