Most people think of the role of a paralegal as an assistant to an attorney. The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) defines a paralegal as someone who "performs 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." But what activities can one really expect to do each day as a paralegal?
The truth is, paralegals perform a large array of tasks, and no day is completely alike. However, there are some core functions paralegals commonly perform. Here are some of the common duties paralegals are responsible for on a day-to-day basis.
Legal Research and Presentations
One of the most important roles of a paralegal is to assist their attorney in preparing for trials, hearings, and closings. A large part of this consists of conducting legal research and gathering relevant information to the case. This includes researching the facts of the case as well as identifying the appropriate laws, judicial decisions, and legal articles relevant to the case. The paralegal gathers and analyzes information, then prepares a written report that the attorney uses to determine how the case should be handled. Often, paralegals also are involved in preparing presentations for the client.
Interviewing is another important part of being a paralegal. A paralegal normally does not conduct the initial client interview where the attorney obtains information about the legal problems of the client. However, they are often present in order to observe the questioning and take notes so they are prepared to conduct subsequent interviews with clients and witnesses. After locating and interviewing a witness, the paralegal prepares a memo summarizing the testimony for the attorney.
Drafting Legal Documents
A large part of a paralegal’s day is spent drafting legal documents. This can include drafting correspondence and pleadings, such as complaints, subpoenas, interrogatories, deposition notices, pretrial orders, and legal briefs with various parties. Paralegal training in the art of written communication is essential.
Law Office Administration
In addition to these duties, paralegals are expected to handle administrative tasks such as filing papers, answering telephone calls, and maintaining and organizing reference files. Paralegals are often in charge of maintaining the schedule of their attorney, and spend some time of each day calling clients, lawyers, witnesses, experts and court personnel to schedule interviews, hearings, meetings, depositions, and trials. Paralegals may also handle any needed travel arrangements.
In addition to these tasks, a paralegal often is present with their attorney as they attend trials, depositions, will executions, real estate closings, and court or administrative hearings. The work of a paralegal also varies based on the type of law in which the paralegal works. For example, a corporate paralegal may handle documents for shareholders while a paralegal working in criminal law may research police records extensively. Regardless of the area of law, a person with an organized mind and ability to multitask will find the day-to-day activities of a paralegal rewarding and challenging.
Since 1987, Center for Advanced Legal Studies has prepared thousands of students for the paralegal profession. We offer both a Paralegal Certificate and an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Paralegal Studies that can be completed through our on-campus or paralegal online classes. In addition, we are dedicated to supporting our students with full career development services and externship opportunities.
Go to http://www.paralegal.edu/paralegal-profession/ to find a common list of paralegal job responsibilities.