What Does a Paralegal Do?
In theory, there is no standard for what a paralegal does. In practice, the ways a paralegal can assist a lawyer in delivering affordable, quality legal services are limited only by the imagination of the lawyer.
Many factors affect the nature of the assignments a paralegal receives, including the experience and education of the paralegal, the complexity of the legal task, and the specific practice setting. In most cases, however, a paralegal performs some or all of the following tasks:
Client contact. Most paralegals assist lawyers by serving as the first line of communication with the client. By designating the paralegal as the primary contact, the lawyer is free to perform other functions. Unless the client has a question or problem that requires legal advice, paralegals are quite effective in keeping the client up to date on the progress of his case.
Client interviews. To provide good legal service, a lawyer needs to know the facts of the client's legal problem. The task of obtaining factual information from the client is often delegated to paralegals. Most paralegals have specific skills in client interviewing and fact identification.
Legal investigations. Paralegals are often assigned the task of gathering, organizing, and summarizing relevant information. A probate matter might require an investigation into the value of a certain piece of personal property; a personal injury lawsuit might be based on photographs of the accident scene taken by the investigating police officer. An experienced paralegal knows where to find relevant information and how to evaluate it.
Docket control. Nearly every legal task has a deadline. A document must be filed with the court, a contract must be signed, or a response to a request for information is due. In many offices, the paralegal is responsible for tracking deadlines and other important dates for the lawyer.
Legal research. If properly trained, paralegals can often perform routine legal research for the lawyer. Routine legal research tasks include locating the applicable cases, statutes, court rules, and regulations on a specific legal issue. A paralegal might also be asked to analyze and summarize the impact of this research on the client's case.
Legal drafting. A paralegal is able to prepare legal documents under the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals often prepare drafts of pleadings, contracts, deeds, or wills for review by the lawyer, as well as routine legal correspondence and interoffice memoranda.
This list is not exhaustive. The precise duties of a paralegal depend on the needs of the lawyer and the client. Some paralegals accompany their lawyers to court or to witness depositions, especially if document management is a concern. Other paralegals perform secretarial functions such as typing, filing, and photocopying.