A paralegal is an individual who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, government agency, or other entity who performs specific delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Paralegals perform tasks requiring knowledge of the law and legal procedures. Use of paralegals in a law firm ultimately reduces the cost to the client and allows attorney time to concentrate on complex matters.
The career began to develop in the late 1960’s when law firms and individual practitioners sought ways to improve efficiency and cost-effective delivery of legal services. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) was formed on April 10, 1975 in Oklahoma.
In 1992, group of concerned and dedicated group of 15 professionals organized an formed The Montana Association of Legal Assistants*Paralegals (MALA). That same year, MALA became an affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Since its formation, MALA has continued to promote the paralegal profession and broaden public understanding of the role of paralegals
Many paralegals have completed a formal paralegal education program while others only have on-the-job paralegal training. In Montana Section 25-10-305, MCA, outlines the definition and criteria required to use the title “Paralegal”.
Paralegals are normally employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity. In a law firm setting, a paralegal will spend time on substantive legal work that is billed to a client at market rates, similar to other professional staff, but often at a reduced rate. This distinguishes paralegals from other non-lawyer staff members. As a general rule, paralegal time spent on administrative or clerical functions is not billable.
Only licensed attorneys, like an employment lawyer from Silverman Law Office, may give legal advice to consumers of legal services, and paralegals are prohibited from doing so. The work product of the paralegal becomes the attorney’s work product. Paralegals also are prohibited from accepting a case, setting a fee, or representing a client in court (unless authorized by the court). All states require attorneys to be licensed and most have statutes imposing penalties for those found to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
Generally, private law firms are the largest employers of paralegals. Businesses, corporations and government are also large employers of paralegals. Paralegals work in a variety of legal practice areas, ranging from litigation and trial practice to tax, real estate transactions, estate planning and probates.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, as fast as average for all occupations. The terms “legal assistant” and “paralegal” are used interchangeably, much like the terms attorney and lawyer.