Paralegals are an integral part of our legal system, as they provide many valuable services to lawyers, including editing and drafting of legal documentation, preparing correspondence, performing legal research, preparing case summaries, among other things. Without paralegals, our legal system wouldn’t work as well and there would be much more work for lawyers to do. It is a certified profession that requires a unique skill set and most often, a paralegal studies degree or a legal studies degree. However, paralegals cannot give legal advice, only licensed attorneys.
The paralegal profession began during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, as the need for greater access to legal services increased. The high cost of legal services made it difficult for the poor to obtain counsel, and as a result, legal secretaries arrived on the scene to perform legally substantive tasks. The job has since evolved, and now legal secretaries are usually called paralegals or legal assistants and are typically certified and hold a college degree.
What does a paralegal need to know?
All paralegals are required to have a vast knowledge of the legal system, no matter where you choose to work or what area of law you work in. Most lawyers will expect paralegals to have a solid understanding of how to prepare affidavits or other documents, such as legal correspondence, and organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing system as well as prepare for trial by performing tasks such as organizing exhibits. These skills, among others, are taught in a paralegal training program, designed to help students navigate today’s legal landscape.
In order to learn about the legal system, prospective paralegals often enroll in an accredited degree program at the associate’s or bachelor’s degree levels. Many of these programs are comprised of 1/2 paralegal courses and 1/2 courses in general education that teach students how to:
- conduct client interviews.
- conduct investigations and interview witnesses.
- conduct legal research.
- draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
- summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
- attend executions of wills, real estate closings, and depositions with the attorney.
What kind of technology does a paralegal use?
Every career path has been altered by modern technology, and the paralegal field is no exception. Not so long ago paralegal technology consisted solely of type writers, spreadsheets, exhibit boards, and filing cabinets. A lot has changed since then, and now most billing and client files are electronic, as well as some evidence.
Electronic filing and billing is beneficial because it saves time, prevents waste, and it is easier to organize and retrieve information later. There is a variety of e-billing and e-filing software available, and you can stay updated with the latest technologies used in the paralegal field, at the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC).
We also wrote a blog post, “25 Most Popular Software Applications for Paralegals” with a list of apps that can make a paralegal’s life easier.
Can paralegals use cloud technology?
In addition to e-filing and e-billing, many paralegals and lawyers are working virtually. To work from a remote location and still keep communication channels open, you will need to know how to use video conferencing technology like Skype and FaceTime. Most people have become familiar with how to use that technology on a personal level. However, it is important that you do not break client confidentiality, or violate any ethical conduct rules as a result of becoming too comfortable with the technology. If you are working away from the office, you will also need a secure way to share your research, drafted documents, and client files securely.
Using cloud technology in the legal field is considered an ethical gray-area, so it is always important to check with your employer and local government. The American Bar Association (ABA) created the map below that has highlighted in blue which states are more likely to approve the use of cloud technology. There is a chart that accompanies the map and provides more explanation on the rules of each highlighted state, and you can view it by clicking on the map.
Some schools offer degrees specifically in paralegal technology because of its growing prevalence in the field. This degree program is most commonly offered at the associate level. You will take many of the same classes that you would in a regular paralegal degree program, with the exception that it will be centered around the use of technology.
As a student, you are at an advantage because you are able to know how to use this technology while you are studying to become a paralegal. The role of a paralegal is always changing, and there are a plethora of career options for you to pursue too. Explore our website to learn more , and to find out how to get your start in this exciting career.