There comes a time when a law office grows to such a point that it must consider if it should hire a paralegal. Many in the industry today still aren’t even sure just what a paralegal is or can do. Here are some things to consider for the serious possibility of employing this kind of legal staff for your organization.
Paralegals can certainly make a real difference, and many of the larger law firms extensively use them to perform the basics of legal legwork. These days many smaller firms (and even those farther from a law-hub metropolis) are beginning to appreciate and utilize the added edge a paralegal professional can offer. Paralegals can improve a legal organization’s efficiency simply because they can be responsible for many of the same tasks that the lawyers perform regularly (at much lower rates), freeing them up for more important functions. By reducing the costs of services and increasing attorney productivity, law offices can attract more clients!
More than just covering the basics, they can perform dutifully much of the substantive legal work of which a lawyer is in charge. Complex legal research and writing, motions and appellate briefs, interviewing clients and witnesses, and even assisting at closings and trials -are all possible duties. Possessing substantial knowledge of the law and legal skills, as they are trained just like law students, they can therefore be delegated most tasks normally performed by a qualified attorney. These days, some paralegals are even becoming trained as mediators!
Although a paralegal may have been educated in the law like an attorney, they are not actually licensed as lawyers are, nor are they subject to regulatory parameters that attorneys must adhere to in their profession. As they continue to shoulder more and more responsibilities in the legal industry, their credentials and proof of qualifications become more prominent and scrutinized. For example, the Special Committee on Paralegals was recently created by the Maryland State Bar Association, and among its goals, it has set out to review the status of state regulatory programs for paralegals throughout the nation to determine if a system of monitoring and direction is needed.
Many professional associations of the legal industry, such as the NFPA and NALA, now offer paralegal certification (such as Registered Paralegal, Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal) after completing course requirements and competency exams. Today, more educational institutions are also seeking the American Bar Association’s approval for paralegal programs. Thus, more and more attorneys are seeking paralegals not only holding degrees, but those that are trained in the stringent curriculums approved by the ABA.