On any given day, there are many people working to support attorneys in their legal work. Law firm clients may work with receptionists, legal assistants, case managers, and paralegals. These workers are known as paraprofessionals. What is a paraprofessional exactly? Paraprofessional is a title given to individuals in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, engineering, and law. Historically, paraprofessionals assisted the master professional of their field. In more recent times, they have become professionals in their own right, providing services that meet the needs of a particular recipient or community.
Legal Paraprofessionals are not lawyers, but they are vital members of a law firm’s support staff. Here’s what you need to know about their training and how they support attorneys, clients, and other staff.
What do paraprofessionals do?
Paraprofessionals provide administrative, clerical, legal, and other support to attorneys, their clients, and opposing counsel. They often work one-on-one with clients by screening, interviewing, and investigating their legal claims. They work for attorneys in law firms, assist in-house counsel for corporations or work in the public sector, provide assistance to public defenders, prosecuting attorneys, or federal district attorneys. Several duties and responsibilities can be delegated to a paraprofessional, as long as the worker doesn’t engage in the unauthorized practice of law.
Here are four common ways paraprofessionals provide support:
1. Client Interviews
During the initial steps in case management, the gathering of information from potential clients can be delegated to paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals experienced in the attorney’s practice area may interview clients to obtain information concerning the type of legal representation they’re seeking. If the paraprofessionals work for a plaintiff’s lawyer such as in mass tort, clients who want to sue may have an initial meeting with the paraprofessional to describe what compelled them to seek legal advice. They then turns the information over to the attorney or discusses the client’s interview with him to determine if the lawyer will represent the client. This is known as the intake process.
2. Case Management
Case management is one of the duties frequently delegated to paraprofessionals. This refers to managing deadlines, organizing file materials, coordinating the delivery of information to opposing counsel, communicating with opposing counsel’s paraprofessional team, and ensuring that the case follows court rules for the jurisdiction where the case is filed. As part of the case management responsibilities, they may also interacts with law firm administrative employees as well as courthouse personnel.
3. Legal Documentation
Many attorneys delegate responsibility for handling drafting legal documents to their paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals can draft legal documents such as a plaintiff’s complaint, defendant’s answer to a petition, discovery documents, such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, or requests for admissions. In addition, seasoned paraprofessionals also may draft more complex documents, such as motions for summary judgment, opening statements, or closing arguments for trial.
Aside from duties connected to legal representation, attorneys delegate administrative duties to Paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals participate in conducting performance appraisals for support staff, such as legal secretaries, file clerks, and receptionists. In addition, paralegals may monitor the number of billable hours charged to client files and coordinate outsourced services with couriers and online legal research service providers.
What are the qualifications and training required?
Paraprofessionals do not have the same training and certification as attorneys. The requirements and working conditions vary from state to state and even among individual law firms. The only state that currently regulates paralegals directly is California, which adopted a regulation in 2000 that requires persons using the titles “paralegal,” “legal assistant,” and the like to meet certain educational or experiential qualifications and to meet continuing education requirements.
Paraprofessionals often learn many of their practical skills on the job. They can be more effective when they have ongoing training and access to professional learning opportunities. Whenever possible, law firms should include paraprofessionals in staff meetings and other events, so they are up to date on all firm policies, caseloads, and client needs.
The Mass Tort Institute’s Practice Management for Paraprofessionals and Certified Mass Tort Paraprofessional (CMTP) program are two training opportunities for those just entering the legal field or current paraprofessionals looking for a refresher and a chance to sharpen their skills and competencies.
How Can I Become a Legal Paraprofessional?
If you’re interested in becoming a legal paraprofessional, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. According to industry statistics, 50.0% of legal paraprofessionals have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, 0.0% of legal paraprofessionals have master’s degrees. Even though some legal paraprofessionals have a college degree, it is possible to become one with only a high school diploma or GED.
For those looking for formal education, programs are offered by two-year community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and business and proprietary schools, some of which are freestanding institutions devoted solely to providing this type of training. Since entry into the legal paraprofessional field is open to a wide range of individuals with diverse educational backgrounds and previous work experiences, the length of programs and their admission requirements vary considerably from one institution to another.
Prospective students should be informed that paraprofessional education is not the equivalent of a law school education. Graduates of these programs are not qualified or eligible to take the bar examination. Academic credit for paraprofessional courses is not transferable for advanced standing in law school.
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Written by Jerise Henson
About the Author
Jerise Henson is the Academy Content Writer at The Mass Tort Institute. She has served in numerous roles in mass tort firms from case manager to paralegal and director of client services. She is passionate and dedicated to improving education and training for allied professionals in the mass tort industry.