The terms legal assistant and paralegal are used interchangeably, much like the terms attorney and lawyer. The practice of law is regulated by each of the 50 states.
In all states, legal assistants/paralegals are prohibited from
practicing law without a license. A legal assistant/paralegal cannot
give legal advice, represent a client in court, set a fee, or accept a
case, which functions are generally considered the practice of law.
Working under the supervision of an attorney, the legal assistant's work
product is merged with and becomes part of the attorney work product.
In communications with clients and the public, the legal assistant' s
non-lawyer status must be clear. A legal assistant may perform any
function delegated by an attorney, including but not limited to the
client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long
as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal
assistant, and the legal assistant works under the supervision of the
- Locate and interview witnesses.
- Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research.
- Conduct legal research.
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
- Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
- Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney.
and sign correspondence provided the legal assistant status is clearly
indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal
opinions or legal advice.
Professionally, a paralegal's time for substantive legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way as an attorney's time, but at a lower hourly rate.