Yes, paralegals can function without attorneys.
However, the two professionals will usually collaborate and work hand in hand.
This is to say that a paralegal cannot function without an attorney, and vice versa.
In this article, we will discuss what a paralegal is and their professional qualifications.
Furthermore, we shall explore the role and duties of a paralegal.
This article aims to explore what a paralegal can do without an attorney.
What is a Paralegal?
Paralegals are an important part of the legal fraternity, as they serve mostly as the aides of attorneys.
As the aides of attorneys, paralegals will mostly handle many tasks on behalf of the attorney they have been assigned by the firm or the attorney that has hired them.
Professionally, paralegals do possess skills that allow them to assist in a variety of legal matters. Therefore, they can perform many of the same tasks as lawyers seamlessly.
Paralegals are different from other professionals in the legal field. Paralegals should not be confused with a legal assistant or a legal intake specialist.
For a career as a paralegal, one has to possess an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Some other paralegals prefer a different route where you study a bachelor’s degree in any subject and combine it with a paralegal certificate.
The major similarity between a legal assistant, a legal intake specialist, and a paralegal is in the type of work. At times, their roles overlap as they are well-equipped in handling some matters. For example, in the case of organizing and maintaining files and documents.
What are the duties of a paralegal?
The training and skills of paralegals, however, sets them aside from legal assistants and legal intake specialists.
Paralegals can then perform many tasks without an attorney.
The following are the main duties of paralegals:
Organization and Maintenance of files and documents
For starters, they can organize and maintain files and documents. This task will involve updating legal databases and records.
Additionally, maintenance of comprehensive case files, and arrangement of documents.
Paralegals should also ensure that deadlines for filings and court appearances are met, allowing the attorney to focus on the legal strategy.
Analysis of case data and legal research
On behalf of the attorney, paralegals analyze data, organize it, review it, and proofread it.
Speaking with clients and interviewing witnesses is usually a part of this process.
A paralegal will not be involved in the first meeting with the client, as that role is usually done with a legal intake specialist.
During the first meeting, a paralegal will mostly take notes and get familiar with the case details.
In some cases, the paralegal will represent an attorney in further interviews. Part of this task includes locating witnesses, interviewing them, and taking statements from them.
Paralegals are also skilled at conducting legal research. This skill entails researching case laws as well as State and Federal statutes
As aides to attorneys
As aides of attorneys, sometimes paralegals will attend court hearings.
However, they lack a Juris Doctor and the enabling licensing to practice law.
Therefore, their court attendance is strictly limited to note-taking during the hearing.
Drafting of documents
Paralegals have the necessary skills that enable them to draft legal documents such as affidavits, subpoenas, complaints, deposition notices, contracts, demand letters, settlement offers, and communications with opposing counsel.
Most of these tasks are done on behalf of attorneys, and they are the only tasks that paralegals can do without the approval of an attorney.
What Can a Paralegal Do Without an Attorney?
The American Bar Association (ABA) prohibits paralegals from answering legal questions.
However, there are some tasks that paralegals can do without lawyers. For example, some federal and state agencies will allow paralegals to represent clients in their forums. The reason is that paralegals may provide counsel at cheaper and more affordable rates, as compared to attorneys.
An example is the Social Security Administration which allows paralegals to represent persons in social security and disability matters,
Other agencies that allow paralegals to substitute attorneys in client representation include
- Immigration and Naturalization Service
- Internal revenue Service
- US Patent Office
However, the work that paralegals will do without attorneys, even in these agencies, is limited to the following
- Preparation of legal paperwork
- Filling out forms
- Corresponding with the relevant agency
- Calling the agency to inquire about the status of the filed paperwork or forms
This means that paralegals still cannot give advice. They cannot work without attorneys.
If one needs legal counsel, then one should seek the advice of an attorney as they cannot be substituted with a paralegal.
Any paralegal giving out legal advice to clients is committing an offense proscribed by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Unauthorized Practice of Law is an offense. In light of this, a paralegal may represent a client who needs paperwork, but they cannot consult the client on the relevant laws or course of action.
Therefore, anything that goes wrong will be to the detriment of the client. The task that paralegals can mainly do without attorneys is limited to administrative work.
States that allow paralegals to represent clients without an attorney
In most states, paralegals will mainly help clients in the preparation of documents.
In addition, some states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow paralegals to perform the task of serving a complaint to a defendant without authorization
For clients who want to file Bankruptcy petitions, the Bankruptcy courts allow paralegals to prepare bankruptcy petitions and file them for the public.
However, such paralegals need accreditation from the court as bankruptcy petition preparers.
In California, a paralegal may help to prepare a complaint about the plaintiff in the small claims court without an attorney.
Additionally, in California, a paralegal can register as Legal Document Assistant (LDA).
However, both Legal Document Preparers and Legal Document Assistants can independently offer legal services only limited to legal document preparation.
The States of Washington and Utah have much lenient laws for paralegals. For example, in Washington, paralegals take a test for Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT). LLLTs are permitted to give legal advice and legal representation in family court proceedings for low-income clients who cannot afford an attorney.
In 2018, Utah allowed licensed paralegal practitioners (LLPs) to practice law in limited areas by providing legal advice and assistance to clients in debt collection, eviction cases, and certain family law cases. Paralegals perform all these tasks without the supervision of an attorney.
Difference between a Paralegal and an Attorney
An attorney and a paralegal have different training and qualifications.
These differences mean that they are tasks that an attorney can do, while they are those that a paralegal cannot perform.
In law firms, a paralegal will mostly work under a specific attorney.
Attorneys will majorly assign paralegals with duties related to research
However, there are some duties that only attorneys can perform. For example, only attorneys can give legal advice to clients or represent them in court. As mentioned, paralegals do not practice law, they cannot give legal advice;
Also, paralegals cannot determine the fees to charge a client.
The laws also bar paralegals from taking depositions or signing legal documents.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Independent Paralegal?
Independent paralegals have their practice, they will work on their own and are not affiliated with any law firm or attorney. They provide services such as document preparation, legal research, and other tasks that do not require the services of an attorney.
Can You Hire an Independent Paralegal Instead of an Attorney?
Yes, if you want to represent yourself in court, you can hire an independent paralegal instead of an attorney.
Independent paralegals are not affiliated with any law firm or attorney and work on their own.
However, if you are not representing yourself in Court, then you cannot hire a paralegal instead of an attorney. While paralegals can perform many tasks on behalf of attorneys, they cannot give legal advice or represent clients in court.
What Services Are Independent Paralegals Allowed to Offer the Public?
Independent paralegals are allowed to offer many services to the public. Some examples include document preparation, legal research, and other tasks that do not require the services of an attorney.
Ethical Considerations for Hiring Paralegals
When hiring a paralegal, it is important to consider ethical considerations such as confidentiality and conflicts of interest. Paralegals must adhere to strict ethical standards when working with clients.
In conclusion, paralegals play an important role in the legal field by assisting attorneys with their work.
While paralegals cannot perform all the duties of an attorney, they possess skills that allow them to assist in many legal matters.
We hope this article has provided you with valuable information about what a paralegal can do without an attorney.