Paralegal / Legal Assistant

Although lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often delegate many of their tasks to paralegals. In fact, paralegals—also called legal assistants—are continuing to assume new responsibilities in legal offices and perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, they are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be within the scope of practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court.

One of a paralegal's most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals might investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals may prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled. If attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials. Paralegals also organize and track files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys.

In addition to this preparatory work, paralegals perform a number of other functions. For example, they help draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. They also may assist in preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates. Some paralegals coordinate the activities of other law office employees and maintain financial office records.

Computer software packages and the Internet are used to search legal literature stored in computer databases and on CD-ROM. In litigation involving many supporting documents, paralegals usually use computer databases to retrieve, organize, and index various materials. Imaging software allows paralegals to scan documents directly into a database, while billing programs help them to track hours billed to clients. Computer software packages also are used to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of various tax strategies for clients.

Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices. In these organizations, they can work in many different areas of the law, including litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. As the law becomes more complex, paralegals become more specialized. Within specialties, functions are often broken down further. For example, paralegals specializing in labor law may concentrate exclusively on employee benefits. In small and medium-size law firms, duties are often more general.

The tasks of paralegals differ widely according to the type of organization for which they work. Corporate paralegals often assist attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial reports, maintain corporate minutes' record resolutions, and prepare forms to secure loans for the corporation. Corporate paralegals often monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new requirements and is operating within the law. Increasingly, experienced corporate paralegals or paralegal managers are assuming additional supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects.

The duties of paralegals who work in the public sector usually vary by agency. In general, litigation paralegals analyze legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for attorneys, and collect and analyze evidence for agency hearings. They may prepare informative or explanatory material on laws, agency regulations, and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public. Paralegals employed in community legal-service projects help the poor, the aged, and others who are in need of legal assistance. They file forms, conduct research, prepare documents, and, when authorized by law, may represent clients at administrative hearings.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant (Base)
 
The Paralegal/Legal Assistant performs a variety of legal assistance duties in an office providing legal assistance to attorneys or litigation teams. The Paralegal Assistant analyzes the legal impact of legislative developments and administrative and judicial decisions, opinions, determinations, and rulings, conducts research for the preparation of legal opinions on matters of interest; performs substantive legal analysis of requests for information under the provisions of various acts; or other similar legal support functions which require discretion and independent judgment in the application of specialized knowledge of laws, precedent decisions, regulations, agency policies, and judicial or administrative proceedings. Such knowledge is less than that represented by graduation from a recognized law school and may have been gained from formalized, professionally instructed agency, educational institution training, or from professionally supervised on-the-job training. While the paramount knowledge requirements of this occupational class are legal, some positions may also require a practical knowledge of subject matter areas related to the agency's substantive programs.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant I
 
The Paralegal/Legal Assistant I works under close supervision with required assistance readily available. Persons in this position typically perform the following:
a. Consult prescribed sources of information for facts relating to matters of interest to the program;
b. Review documents to extract selected data and information relating to specific items;
c. Review and summarize information in prescribed format on case precedent and decisions;
d. Search and extract legal references in libraries and computer-data banks;
e. Attend hearings or court appearances to become informed on administrative and/or court procedures and the status of cases, and where necessary, assist in the presentation of charts and other visual information.
 
Paralegal/Legal Assistant II
 
At this level, the Paralegal/Legal Assistant II exercises more independent judgment than at the level I position. In this capacity the incumbent:
a. Reviews case materials to become familiar with questions under consideration;
b. Searches for and summarizes relevant articles in trade magazines, law reviews, published studies, financial reports, and similar materials for use of attorneys in the preparation of opinions, briefs, and other legal documents;
c. Prepares digests of selected decisions or opinions which incorporate legal references and analyses of precedents involved in areas of well-defined and settled points of law;
d. Interviews potential witnesses and prepares summary interview reports for the attorney's review;
e. Participates in pre-trial witness conferences, notes possible deficiencies in case materials (e.g., missing documents, conflicting statements) and additional issues or other questionable matters, and requests further investigation by other agency personnel to correct possible deficiencies or personally conducts limited investigations at the pre-trial stage;
f. Prepares and organizes trial exhibits, as required, such as statistical charts and photographic exhibits;
g. Verifies citations and legal references on prepared legal documents;
h. Prepares summaries of testimony and depositions;
i. Drafts and edits non-legal memoranda, research reports and correspondence relating to cases.
 
Paralegal/Legal Assistant III
 
At this level, the Paralegal/Legal Assistant III participates in the substantive development of cases. In this capacity, the incumbent performs the following:
a. Analyzes and evaluates case files against litigation worthiness standards;
b. Notes and corrects case file deficiencies (e.g., missing documents, inconsistent material, leads not investigated) before sending the case on to the concerned trial attorney;
c. Reviews and analyzes available precedents relevant to cases under consideration for use in presenting case summaries to trial attorneys;
d. Gathers, sorts, classifies, and interprets data to discover patterns of possible discriminatory activity;
e. Interviews relevant personnel and potential witnesses to gather
Information;
f. Reviews and analyzes relevant statistics;
g. Performs statistical evaluations such as standard deviations, analyses of variance, means, modes, and ranges as supporting data for case litigation;
h. Consults with statistical experts on reliability evaluations;
i. May testify in court concerning relevant data.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant IV
 
At this level, the Paralegal/Legal Assistant IV assists in the evaluation, development, and litigation of cases. In this capacity, the incumbent performs the following duties:
a. Examines and evaluates information in case files, for case litigation worthiness and appropriate titles of law;
b. Determines the need for additional information, independent surveys, evidence, and witnesses, and plans a comprehensive approach to obtain this information;
c. Through on-site visits, interviews, and review of records on operations, looks for and evaluates the relevance and worth of evidence;
d. Selects, summarizes, and compiles comparative data to examine and evaluate respondent's deficiencies in order to provide evidence of illegal practices or patterns;
e. Reviews economic trends and forecasts at the national and regional level to evaluate the impact of successful prosecution and potential remedial provisions of ongoing investigations and litigation;
f. Identifies types of record keeping systems and types of records maintained which would be relevant. Gathers, sorts, and interprets data from various record systems including computer information systems;
g. Interviews potential witnesses for information and prepares witnesses for court appearances;
h. Develops statistics and tabulations, such as standard deviations, regression analyses, and weighting, to provide leads and supportive data for case litigation. Prepares charts, graphs, and tables to illustrate results;
i. Analyzes data, develops recommendations and justifications for the attorney(s) who will take the matter to court. Continues to work with the attorney(s) during the progress of the case, obtaining and developing further evidence and exhibits, providing administrative assistance, and maintaining custody of exhibits, documents, and files;
j. May appear in court as a witness to testify concerning exhibits prepared supporting plaintiff's case.