ABA Definition of a “Paralegal”
According to the ABA’s House of Delegates, the current definition of a legal assistant or paralegal reads as follows:
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
It is important to note, however, that paralegals cannot give legal advice, accept cases, set legal fees, represent clients in court or perform any legal service without the supervision of a licensed lawyer, and may not provide legal services directly to the public except as permitted by law.
Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant
Certification organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) recognize both Certified Legal Assistants (CLAs) and Certified Paralegals (CPs) and hold the terms to be synonymous, differing in use by geographic location only.
Becoming a paralegal requires a great deal more than excellent organizational skills and office diplomacy; it is no mere clerical career. While being a paralegal can be both rewarding and stimulating, it can also be emotionally and intellectually demanding, requiring skilled and motivated individuals.
Because of the nearly all-inclusive nature of a paralegal’s training, paralegals and
legal assistants increasingly assume a variety of roles in a multitude of fields, in
nearly any organization with a legal department. These include:
- Law firms and sole practitioners
- Insurance companies
- Banks and trust companies
- Labor unions
- State and federal courts
- Government agencies