By: Stephanie DeWitt
Many do not understand what a paralegal really is. Worse than that is the staggering amount of legal professionals who should, but can’t, make that distinction.
Most people think a paralegal is a legal assistant is a legal secretary, and that the terms are interchangeable. Nothing could be more frustrating to a certified paralegal. Yes, there are paralegals who have attained that qualification through experience, but more often than not, the educational credentials are the first tell tale sign of a paralegal versus a legal assistant/secretary.
Legal assistants and legal secretaries are just that. Assistants and secretaries who work in the legal field. Paralegals are legal professionals who utilize their legal education and experience to write legal arguments and think in legal realms to decipher relevant facts and make legal conclusions. Perhaps it would be easier to categorize if we stopped comparing paralegals to legal assistants and secretaries, and start comparing them to attorneys. When I obtained my first paralegal certificate in the State of New York, it was taught that there are only three real differences between an attorney and a paralegal:
- Paralegals may not set their own fees;
- Paralegals cannot give out legal advice; and
- Paralegals cannot represent another person as legal counsel.
Other than that, paralegals can, depending on the leeway given by their supervising attorney, do most all other legal tasks that are commonly attributed to only lawyers: Interviewing witnesses, attendance at trials/mediation/depositions/focus groups, analyzing facts and testimony, drafting legal arguments, etc. etc. The paralegal profession was created to make legal services more affordable, because paralegals can offer so many similar services as lawyers at substantially lower rates.
So, the next time someone calls a proud paralegal a legal secretary, you can let them know the qualitative distinctions that clearly define these two very different vocations.
About DelCotto Law Group
DelCotto Law Group is Kentucky’s asset protection law firm known for its commitment to the lifetime success of its clients. With offices located in Lexington, Louisville and Danville, DLG serves Kentuckians with complicated financial matters, especially in the areas of bankruptcy, complex litigation, and estate planning. For more information about filing bankruptcy or DelCotto Law Group, please call (859) 231-5800 or email [email protected].