A paralegal is an individual who holds him or herself out as a paralegal, through training or experience, and who works under the direct supervision of an attorney. A paralegal is authorized to perform a wide variety of work, including, case planning, development, and management; legal research; interviewing clients; fact gather-ing and retrieving information; drafting and analyzing legal documents; collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney; and representing clients before a state or federal administrative agency, if allowed by law. Although lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for all legal work, they delegate many tasks to paralegals. Paralegals perform many similar tasks as lawyers, however, they are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be within the scope of the practice of law, such as giving legal advice, and representing cases in court. One of the most important tasks a paralegal has is helping lawyers prepare cases for settlement or trial.
Paralegals will often perform the initial investigations of facts of cases and ensure all relevant information is considered in each case. Thereafter, they organize and keep track of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to the attorneys. After they analyze and organize the information obtained, paralegals may prepare written reports, initial letters to various companies, and speak to many people asso-ciated with the case. The attorneys then use this information in determining how each case should be handled. If an attorney decides it is neces-sary to file lawsuit on behalf of the client, paralegals may be involved in preparing some of the initial paperwork to be filed with the court. Since paralegals often work directly with clients or potential clients, a paralegal should be able to communicate well, be attentive to what the client’s needs are, and then document and present their findings and opinions to the attorney. While it is ultimately the attorney’s decision on how to proceed with each case, the para-legal provides insights and recommendations to assist the attorney.
Paralegals in law offices often help keep the cost of legal ser-vices down. However, many people believe that if they go to a document preparation ser-vice, they can get the same quality service as a legal office. This is not the case (unless your lawyer is not very good). In fact, document preparation firms, even if they call them-selves "paralegals," are limited to provide "self-help" assistance, as defined in 6400 of the Business and Professions Code. If any legal advice is necessary, they must refer you to a lawyer, however, all too often, they cross the line into practicing law without a license.
Connie Macias, is our paralegal and has been with us for many years. She does a great job and we are glad to have her assistance on our cases.