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The Paralegal (or Legal Assistant) has evolved into a critical component of the modern law office. Today, most law firms and businesses with legal departments could not function without them. In fact, it seems that Paralegals already handle most of the day-to-day routine legal support, including gathering information from clients. However, there have been some dramatic changes since the 1990s in the way Attorneys and Paralegals work. In fact, the economic pressure is on to transfer more and more legal work assignments to Paralegal to keep a law firm or other business competitive.
This four-part article reviews how Paralegals are used in a law office or business setting today, how work assignments are divided up between Attorneys and Paralegals, and what ethical requirements apply. In adapting to today's economic reality, the likely beneficiary of the emerging trend is the client.
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The Basic Paralegal-Attorney Work Relationship
The general job description for Paralegals may seem rather mundane: "Assist lawyers by investigating facts, preparing legal documents, or researching legal precedent. Conduct research to support a legal proceeding, to formulate a defense, or to initiate legal action." (see O*NET below). In fact, as discussed below, it is a hands-on job of increasing importance as law firms and businesses are under pressure to reduce costs in a competitive economy.
The reality today is that a large part of client interactions is handled by Paralegals, such as gathering necessary information, drafting forms, applications and pleadings, and providing answers to questions about the contents of the client file and missing documents. Thus, Paralegal work is not quite as mundane as it appears from the O*NET description. In fact, most of the colorful day-to-day client interactions are presumably handled by Paralegals (subject to ethical rules as discussed below).
One thing has continued unchanged; Paralegals provide essential support to Attorneys, as well as assist in the production and delivery of legal services to the modern client. This "go between client and attorney" career began to develop in the late 1960's when law firms and individual law practitioners sought ways to not only to improve efficiency, but also to reduce costs and expenses – expenses that could be passed along to the client over the course of legal representation. Still, the beneficiary has been the Client because such support work is billed at a much lower rate, and Paralegals tend to be much more accessible than Attorneys with their hectic, deadline-driven schedule. Thus, there is a benefit to both the law firm and the client - Paralegals are able and qualified to perform many services that reduce Attorney time spent on a particular legal matter, thus again resulting in a lower cost to the client. The use of Paralegal services also greatly improves case efficiency and accuracy as the Attorney is now free to spend more time on the more vital aspects of the client's case. In many cases, work is prepared or drafted by a Paralegal and then reviewed and finalized by an Attorney. This process in many instances provides "a second set of eyes" to check the work product. However, there are ethical restrictions so that the Paralegal does not dispense legal advice and acts like an attorney, even though the boundaries are becoming blurry, explains Mr. Wallace.
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The complete articles will be published on the blog of Mr. Wallace at https://ktoddwallaceblog.blogspot.com/
About K Todd Wallace
Kenneth Todd Wallace is an attorney and founding partner of the law firm Wallace Meyaski LLC. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the legal and business professions with established excellence in trial advocacy, negotiation, strategic and initiative planning, employment law compliance, government relations, mergers and acquisitions, and team building.
Wallace Meyaski Law Firm
K Todd Wallace, Esq.
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