What Is A Paralegal?



What is a paralegal?

This is a common question. Paralegals and the nature of their duties may not be entirely clear to you until you begin researching this career.

Sometimes though law firm terminology can be a little confusing. Things like discovery, ex parte, pro tem or force majeure may not ring a bell for many folks outside the legal profession.

You'll find though, in the legal field, that while terms such as paralegal, legal assistant, and legal secretary, are all used on a regular basis, it isn’t always clear what significant difference exists among them.

This should be less confusing once you have some of the basic facts.

A legal secretary is precisely what the term implies. Up until quite recently, this role was the one which most non-attorneys held in a law office.

Legal secretaries, who were usually women, were not much different from secretaries of any other type.

The exception was that a legal secretary often had specialized training to be more knowledgeable about matters specific to the legal field and its procedures.

Legal secretaries occasionally had a college degree but not due to any professional requirements.

Today, however, more and more legal secretaries possess bachelor degrees in a variety of fields.

In contrast, when legal assistants became an everyday part of most law offices, the entirely different role necessitated more and different qualifications.

In taking a much more active role in the law office, a legal assistant needed to be more familiar with all aspects of the legal system in general.

While working as a legal assistant was basically a matter of being a "helper" to an attorney, it was a job which consisted of a decidedly hands-on approach.

These days, the terms legal assistant and paralegal are often used interchangeably. Although many who work in this field tend to prefer the latter term, there is actually not a difference between the two.

The duties of a legal secretary consist primarily of a clerical nature, but this is not the focus of a paralegal.

The majority of a paralegal's work consists of legal duties.

These duties are assigned and carried out under the direction of an attorney. It’s generally a matter of the paralegal lessening the attorney's workload by taking on responsibilities and tasks for which she is qualified.

When you ask a law firm employee, what is a paralegal you may hear that instead of basic clerical work, a legal assistant does some of the following (and more depending on their specialty)...

  • researching statistics,
  • summarizing deposition transcripts,
  • completing legal documents,
  • drafting special interrogatories,
  • docketing case deadlines,
  • drafting discovery responses, and other tasks which are vital to the attorney's ongoing work.

In today's world, the role of paralegal is quite often filled by men. While there are still more women paralegals, many men have also found this field to be both professionally and personally rewarding.

Although there were very few male legal secretaries in the past, the widening role and opportunities for paralegals has led many men to find this line of work to be quite appealing.

So, what is a paralegal? It’s a professional in the law office, corporate office or government agency where he or she works. The paralegal has a distinct role, often a bachelor's degree and a set of qualifications necessary to be effective.


Where To Next?

What does a paralegal do?

Texas paralegal?

California paralegals?

Paralegal profession?

Paralegal work from home?

Arizona Paralegal Association?

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