Paralegals, or legal assistants, play a major role in assisting lawyers — in fact, the legal assistant and paralegal occupations are considered one of the fastest growing occupations in America.
In recent years, as legal offices try to cut costs, paralegals are assuming more and more responsibilities and performing many of the same tasks as lawyers. They help lawyers prepare for opening and closing statements, questioning, hearings and legal meetings. They assist with research and the investigation of the facts of the cases. They identify relevant materials to the case they’re assisting with, including laws and judicial decisions, and compile the information into reports and briefs.
Paralegals also help lawyers prepare for trial by drafting motions and pleadings to be filed with the court, obtaining affidavits, and tracking case files for the attorneys. In addition, they perform functions like drafting contracts, mortgages, tax returns, trust funds, planning estates and separation agreements.
Paralegals are employed by law firms, legal departments of corporations, government offices, and many other times of organizations. They work in all types of law, although recently paralegals have become more specialized, focusing on areas such as criminal law, trademark/intellectual property law, or other specialized areas. The duties of paralegals also vary depending on where they work.
What do paralegals NOT do? They are prohibited from actually practicing law for the public — for example, they cannot charge legal fees, give legal advice or appear in court to present a case before a court.