For many who are not familiar with the paralegal field, the general consensus is that the person’s role in the law office consists primarily of menial tasks. These are people who have never worked as a paralegal, and probably do not know anyone who has been in the field.
Although a paralegal’s role is considered to be in terms of assisting the supervising attorney, there is quite a wide range of responsibilities and duties that actually fall into the category of “assisting”! As the main purpose of a paralegal is to lighten the workload of the attorney, it is more a matter of delegating important, relevant tasks, rather than doing the meaningless tasks that the attorney himself simply does not want to do.
One example is in a case process. It is often the paralegal who has the task of locating the most current codes of law and procedure that are the most relevant to the case the attorney will be working on. As many of these are subject to frequent changes, the paralegal must determine not only what is relevant but what is the most up-to-date.
Interviewing clients and prospective clients is another task common for paralegals who work in a law firm. She is also often given the task of interviewing witnesses. In addition to successfully completing paralegal coursework, it is essential that the paralegal have excellent communication skills, in both written and verbal forms.
In specialized fields, the paralegal may also be present in court. Whether she is directly dealing with witnesses in a court case, or simply taking care of all of the necessary paperwork, it is easy to see that a paralegal has a vital role in the legal system. As you can see, the role of a paralegal consists of much more than simply keeping the law office running smoothly. While this is a part of it, of course, it is by far not the largest part of a paralegal’s average work day.
Thinking a paralegal to be little more than a glorified secretary or a “go-fer” is quite a disservice and quite untrue. Both in overall knowledge and the duties one is expected to perform on a routine basis should make such a person’s professional standing very clear.
First, the qualifications of assisting an attorney means a paralegal must have a full overview of the legal system, including the specifics, in order to carry out these responsibilities without having to turn to others with questions about what is needed and what must be done.
Second, she must also be able to carry out all of the necessary tasks, often in the attorney’s absence. Even though a paralegal is working for an attorney, there are many duties that she must fulfill without his actual presence.
Whether a paralegal is working for an individual attorney in his private practice, or whether she is a part of a large law firm, it should be clear that her role is that of an essential function, both inside and out of the office.