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ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

What is a paralegal?

Asked by ItalianPrincess1217 (11973points) March 9th, 2015

I have been searching for a good lawyer who primarily deals with family court and adoptions. I did research and finally came across a lawyer who seemed to fit exactly what I was looking for. I set up a consultation but was surprised to learn I was actually meeting with a paralegal and not the actual lawyer.

If I decided to go with this firm, would I be dealing mostly with the paralegal and not the lawyer? What is the purpose of a paralegal? Are they able to do the same things as a lawyer? I’m a little put off by this. My last lawyer (although he ended up being pretty terrible) was the only person I ever dealt with from start to finish. I had my consultation with him and never had to meet with a paralegal. My main concern is, how can I get a good feel for the lawyer and decide whether I want them to represent me if I won’t even be meeting with them directly?

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8 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

A lot of what you are looking for with family court and adoptions is filing of forms and making sure the paperwork is correct. That’s what the paralegals do, and do well, and at a much lower hourly rate than the lawyer himself.

The lawyer’s main task in cases like this is to address the court if there are any hang-ups or controversies in what you are doing. If it is all uncontested and agreed to by all, a paralegal can do all the heavy lifting under the supervision of an attorney.

You can always ask to meet the attorney, an ask where the division of labor will be. But really, having work done by a paralegal saves you time and money.

jaytkay's avatar

A paralegal is simply someone who works for a lawyer.

It could be someone with years of experience who can do 90% of a lawyer’s job (everything that doesn’t require a lawyer’s signature).

It could be someone just out of high school, filing papers and answering the phone.

livelaughlove21's avatar

People just out of high school typically don’t get hired as paralegals.

There are legal secretaries, legal assistants, law clerks, and paralegals. Paralegals are usually required to have a paralegal certificate OR a lot of experience before getting the job. They do a lot of research for their attorneys. A lot of them know about as much about the law as the attorney does. And they’re cheaper.

tinyfaery's avatar

We do a lot of the work and they get all the money.

In your case, it’s all about filing documents and hearings, I would imagine. (I have never done family law.) The attorney will deal with the court and sign names to documents and make sure everything is done legally.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Yup, the 3 times the work for half, if that pay was spot on.

CWOTUS's avatar

Considering your concerns, and they are valid, although the responses above are pretty good, too, you would be perfectly justified – and smart! – to interview the paralegal, too.

One of the things that the paralegal will do – as you have been witness to – is to do some of the things for the attorney that will not require a law license: interviewing clients and witnesses. It’s what helps the attorney devote his time to the work that only he can do legally.

When you go to a pharmacy it’s not likely that everyone filling every prescription is a licensed pharmacist, either (but parapharmacist would never make it into the lexicon), and you are certainly familiar with a lot of the division of work in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. “The ones with the degrees and licenses” are there to oversee the work done on their behalf and to perform certain procedures that by law only they may perform. But it’s time and labor-saving (and for that reason a cost advantage to you) that they out-source any work that they can, assuming it’s done competently and well-supervised.

For that reason I recommend that you interview the paralegal as to that person’s credentials, bona fides, experience, customer satisfaction, disciplinary reviews, etc.

JLeslie's avatar

The paralegal does a lot of the work but not the experience of the more stringent education a lawyer goes through. In NY there is no requirement to be called a paralegal, but I just looked up that if they are part of ESAPA there are requirements. I am actually shocked that someone without specific education requirements can be called a paralegal. I always had thought there were specific certificates required for that, otherwise you are called a legal secretary. But, I was wrong obviously. At least in NY, I’m sure it varies by state.

I think it’s great to have a good relationship and rapport with the paralegal. No matter what you will probably deal with the paralegal a lot. I also think meeting the lawyer is important.

Is the paralegal just a preliminary free meeting, and then she/he presents the case to the lawyer? Maybe ask how the set up will work if you give them your case so you know what to expect. It probably varies by office and how the lawyer runs things.

BMarshal's avatar

Basically what everyone else said. I won’t be too worried though, normally paralegal’s know all about the law etc, and they are very competent, they just don’t go to court etc, but they work very closely with the actually lawyer, giving him all the info etc.

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