What is a Legal Assistant?

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There’s no doubt about it – lawyers are some of the hardest working people. It is important to note, however, that behind every great lawyer is often a great legal assistant. To the untrained eye, legal assistants and paralegals are often mistakenly viewed as interchangeable. But despite some shared tasks, their responsibilities and training differ significantly.

The distinction between a legal assistant and a paralegal

From scheduling appointments to preparing legal documents, billing and invoicing, it takes a lot to run a law firm. A paralegal – sometimes called a legal office assistant – is someone who works closely with attorneys, helping to shoulder the brunt of their administrative work. By doing so, lawyers can focus on their substantive legal work.

According to the American Bar Association, a paralegal is defined as a person qualified by educational training or work experience who is employed or retained by an attorney, law firm, government agency, or other entity and who performs a specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Unlike paralegals, they spend more time researching laws and helping prepare and brief attorneys for their trials. Some might even say that a paralegal is practically a lawyer, they simply cannot represent clients in court or provide legal advice.

Education

Unlike legal assistants, a paralegal must receive special training and certification in most states, with some exceptions. Although requirements may vary, paralegals may generally only be required to have a high school diploma.

That said, a career in legal support is fast-paced and competitive. Legal assistants who hope to stand out among applicants can choose to become accredited and certified legal professionals. (CLP) Although it is not technically necessary to be a legal assistant, it can demonstrate your eagerness and commitment to supporting the busy and demanding world of a lawyer. Some attorneys will only consider certified legal assistance when reviewing resumes, which certainly benefits candidates.

Duties of a paralegal

Customer communications

One of the most critical aspects of finding and retaining customers is communication. With lawyers having a lot to do, building and researching their cases, it is difficult to be responsive and timely. This is where paralegals can be incredibly handy. They can contact potential clients via email, provide more information about the law firm, browse voicemails, and make follow-up calls. Although they cannot offer any legal advice, they can answer basic questions about the law firm, which can significantly ease a lawyer’s workload.

Planning

The planning aspect of running a law firm can be a hindrance to your workflow. Your clients lead busy lives themselves, so agreeing to a schedule that works for you and them can lead to perpetual email exchanges. Busy attorneys don’t always have time to get stuck in a vortex of emails trying to schedule a simple consultation. Not only can paralegals handle the scheduling aspect of appointment scheduling, but they can also help avoid no-shows and client confusion by sending appointment reminders.

Billing

Billing is a huge business in itself. In the absence of billing software, lawyers can opt for a legal assistant to do their bill preparation and billing tasks for them to free up hours of their week. Any unpaid invoices will generally be followed up by legal assistants, who will attempt to collect payment and accommodate customers by offering flexible payment options.

Organization of documents

It goes without saying that there are a lot of documents that go into every case. Paralegals can help gather requested documents that lawyers need for a case and help organize files between clients.

There’s no doubt about it – lawyers are some of the hardest working people. It is important to note, however, that behind every great lawyer is often a great legal assistant. To the untrained eye, legal assistants and paralegals are often mistakenly viewed as interchangeable. But despite some shared tasks, their responsibilities and training differ significantly.

The distinction between a legal assistant and a paralegal

From scheduling appointments to preparing legal documents, billing and invoicing, it takes a lot to run a law firm. A paralegal – sometimes called a legal office assistant – is someone who works closely with attorneys, helping to shoulder the brunt of their administrative work. By doing so, lawyers can focus on their substantive legal work.

According to the American Bar Association, a paralegal is defined as a person qualified by educational training or work experience who is employed or retained by an attorney, law firm, government agency, or other entity and who performs a specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Unlike paralegals, they spend more time researching laws and helping prepare and brief attorneys for their trials. Some might even say that a paralegal is practically a lawyer, they simply cannot represent clients in court or provide legal advice.

Education

Unlike legal assistants, a paralegal must receive special training and certification in most states, with some exceptions. Although requirements may vary, paralegals may generally only be required to have a high school diploma.

That said, a career in legal support is fast-paced and competitive. Legal assistants who hope to stand out among applicants can choose to become accredited and certified legal professionals. (CLP) Although it is not technically necessary to be a legal assistant, it can demonstrate your eagerness and commitment to supporting the busy and demanding world of a lawyer. Some attorneys will only consider certified legal assistance when reviewing resumes, which certainly benefits candidates.

Duties of a paralegal

Customer communications

One of the most critical aspects of finding and retaining customers is communication. With lawyers having a lot to do, building and researching their cases, it is difficult to be responsive and timely. This is where paralegals can be incredibly handy. They can contact potential clients via email, provide more information about the law firm, browse voicemails, and make follow-up calls. Although they cannot offer any legal advice, they can answer basic questions about the law firm, which can significantly ease a lawyer’s workload.

Planning

The planning aspect of running a law firm can be a hindrance to your workflow. Your customers lead busy lives themselves. Therefore, agreeing to a schedule that suits you and them can lead to perpetual email exchanges. Busy lawyers don’t always have time to get stuck in a vortex of emails trying to schedule a simple consultation. Not only can paralegals handle the scheduling aspect of appointment scheduling, but they can also help avoid no-shows and client confusion by sending appointment reminders.

Billing

Billing is a huge business in itself. In the absence of billing software, lawyers can opt for a legal assistant to do their bill preparation and billing tasks for them to free up hours of their week. Any unpaid invoices will generally be followed up by legal assistants, who will attempt to collect payment and accommodate customers by offering flexible payment options.

Organization of documents

It goes without saying that there are a lot of documents that go into every case. Paralegals can help gather requested documents that lawyers need for a case and help organize files between clients.

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