They say three things never go away – death, divorce and taxes. Pretty much any legal matter could fall under that category, and because of this, attorneys are constantly in need of help completing procedural work in their cases. Thus began the paralegal profession.
The paralegal profession developed, as well, to meet the needs of a growing legal profession, large caseloads and the need for legal services at a lower cost. The average hourly fee for attorney services compared to paralegal services differs by well over $100. If the client is looking to save money in legal costs, it is much more cost efficient to go through the paralegal to get answers from the attorney rather than take the attorney’s time directly. Each year, the number of case filings steadily increases, and as the need increases, so does the demand for educated and skilled workers to handle these cases.
The work started out with paralegals being mostly female and completing mundane tasks for attorneys, usually sitting behind a desk with headphones on, typing out letters, pleadings, motions and memorandums that were dictated via Dictaphone by the attorney. The position involved very little outside knowledge or thought other than the ability to type quickly and process work as efficiently and accurately as possible.
While paralegals still complete much of this work, a lot has changed from the days of the Dictaphone. Many attorneys, especially those who are entering their retiring years, still fall back to the days of dictating a letter to their paralegals, but as new attorneys enter the profession, the role of the paralegal has evolved. Paralegals are expected to perform a large variety of tasks including conducting legal research, drafting documents independently, and maintaining and organizing case files. Paralegals will often accompany attorneys to court to assist with clients in between hearings and to organize evidence and files for the attorney as needed during a trial.
Attorneys expect a lot from their paralegal staff, as they should. No attorney has the time to handle all of the necessary procedural tasks needed to complete a case. Without a paralegal, the attorney would have to cut down his or her case load, which means less income. The more a paralegal can complete, the more money that attorney can make in his or her practice by accepting more cases.
In today’s world, you may find paralegals interviewing witnesses to gather information. You will find them researching specific legal issues and composing legal memoranda for the attorney to review before trial. The level of responsibility has increased, and with it, so has the expectation for paralegals to be educated, trained and prepared on all aspects of handling a legal matter.
Gone are the days of legal “secretaries” only typing dictated information for eight hours a day. Today’s paralegals are a new breed with higher expectations and increased level of work, and as time goes on, that need will only increase.
Brighton College: The Paralegal Institute: http://www.theparalegalinstitute.edu/