Paralegal Definition

If you've been considering a career in the legal field, you may be wondering, what is a paralegal? What exactly is the paralegal definition? Paralegals serve as assistants to attorneys to handle a good portion of the research and information-gathering associated with preparing a case. Paralegals also help attorneys in a wide range of legal capacities, including drafting legal documents, conducting offsite research and working directly with clients. However, paralegals are not authorized to provide legal counsel or advice to any clients at any time, and typically work "behind the scenes" with a qualified attorney.

Learning about the paralegal definition and reviewing a paralegal job description can help you better answer the question, what is a paralegal?

What Exactly Is a Paralegal?

Many attorneys now delegate a lot of their work to a paralegal, also known as a legal assistant. If you've wondered what a is paralegal, you can take a look at some accredited paralegal training programs and certification programs to get an idea of the scope of education and skills required to succeed in this profession. Paralegals are trained to handle many aspects of an active case and do assume many of the responsibilities of a lawyer throughout their careers.

Some of the key duties and responsibilities of a paralegal include:

  • Assisting lawyers with preparing closings, hearings and trials
  • Setting up corporate meetings on behalf of an attorney
  • Investigating facts of a case to ensure everything is accurate
  • Identifying various laws and regulations that apply to a particular case
  • Researching legal articles and materials that support a case
  • Analyzing and organizing information to prepare written reports
  • Preparing legal documents and draft pleadings
  • Obtaining necessary affidavits
  • Assisting attorneys throughout the trail process
  • Organizing and keeping track of files that are relevant to the case
  • Maintaining office financial records
  • Handling clerical and administrative tasks over the course of a workday

Paralegals are trained to acquire advanced computer skills and office organization skills so that they can retrieve necessary documents and find relevant information as quickly as possible.

Paralegal Defined

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations has identified the following paralegal definition:

"A Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts."

The actual paralegal definition can vary slightly depending on the job or area of specialization. For example, a criminal law paralegal may be heavily involved with conducting interviews and gathering investigative data and reports. A business law or bankruptcy paralegal may need to work with banks and creditors to settle disputes and provide services on behalf of a bankruptcy attorney. Still, the general paralegal definition stays the same across all specializations and all paralegals must adhere to a strict code of ethics and guidelines in order to succeed in their paralegal careers.