Can Paralegals Give Legal Advice?
They say behind every great lawyer is a great paralegal…. well, something like that. While not all lawyers have paralegals, also known as legal assistants, they are without a doubt a game-changer for lawyers juggling multiple cases and deadlines.
A paralegal's main role is to help assist attorneys with all of the administrative tasks that it requires to keep their law firm operational. From organizing client files to conducting interviews to researching, paralegals are there to help pick up the slack that can be enormously difficult for a lawyer to juggle on their own. But amid all of that, are they qualified (or allowed) to give legal advice?
What a Paralegal Does
With their legal expertise and attention to detail, paralegals are the ultimate sidekick for lawyers who need an extra set of hands. They can draft documents, conduct research, and even help with trial preparation — often specializing in a particular practice area. And while they may not have a law degree, paralegals are often just as knowledgeable as their attorney counterparts. Think of them as the legal equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife - versatile, dependable, and always ready to lend a hand.
Some of their duties include:
- Preparing for trial
- Drafting letters
- Drafting pleadings
- Case development and planning
- Assisting at trial
- Finding and Interviewing Witnesses
Differences Between Paralegals and Lawyers
The primary difference between paralegals and lawyers is their education. Lawyers must earn a law degree which takes an average of three years following an undergraduate degree. They must additionally pass the State Bar exam in whichever state they plan to hang their shingle or join an established practice.
Paralegals are not required to earn a law degree. They may complete a paralegal certificate program which varies anywhere from several months to one year, or alternatively, they may complete an associate's degree in paralegal studies. Paralegals are not required to pass the bar, nor do they need to pass a licensing exam to work as a paralegal.
Scope of Practice
The legal profession is highly regulated and requires strict adherence to ethical and professional standards. As such, the role of a lawyer is tightly defined by their license to practice law, which includes the ability to provide legal advice, represent clients in court, and negotiate on their behalf. Paralegals, on the other hand, are not licensed to practice law, and therefore have limitations on what they can do. By working closely with lawyers and under their supervision, paralegals help to ensure that legal proceedings are carried out smoothly, efficiently, and in compliance with all legal and ethical requirements. Their contributions may not always be visible to the outside world, but they are essential to the functioning of any successful law practice.
Level of Responsibility
Being a paralegal may seem like a lower-stress job than that of a lawyer, but that doesn't mean it's without its challenges. Paralegals are still expected to adhere to strict ethical standards and must take great care to ensure their work is accurate and thorough. And while the ultimate responsibility may fall on the lawyer, a good paralegal knows the importance of being diligent and meticulous in their work. After all, mistakes can have serious consequences in the legal world, and no one wants to be the cause of a lost case or a dissatisfied client. So, while the burden of responsibility may be lighter for paralegals, they still play a critical role in ensuring the success of their clients' cases. And who knows, with their attention to detail and legal know-how, they may just be the ones to catch a crucial detail that saves the day in court - all without having to pass the bar exam.
Typically, lawyers earn significantly more than paralegals because ultimately lawyers have a greater scope of practice, lengthier education requirements, and are required to pass the bar, which is not an easy feat. The median salary as of February 2023 for a paralegal is $87,870 whereas median salary for an attorney is $102,090.
Legal Requirements for Providing Legal Advice
- A license. Delivering legal advice is extremely regulated. And while it may vary depending on your location, ultimately, it is always a rule that an individual must possess a license to practice law. A license serves as proof that a person has the knowledge and expertise required to deliver reliable legal advice.
- Confidentiality. In addition to having a license, people who deliver legal advice may not disclose any of their client's information to an outside source without the client's consent. If there is a breach of confidentiality, it could lead to serious legal consequences.
- No Conflicts of Interest. Legal advisors are forbidden to engage in conflicts. Conflicts of interest are considered to occur when personal and financial interests do not match those of their clients. For example, it would be considered a conflict of interest to represent opposing parties of a case.
- Adhere to standards of professional conduct. The standards of professional conduct include acting in the best interest of their legal clients, providing competent legal representation, and avoiding anything that could negatively impact the perception of the legal profession.
So, Can Paralegals Give Legal Advice?
Since paralegals are not lawyers, it is therefore unethical to provide legal advice. Delivering legal advice as a paralegal would be considered unauthorized practice of the law. Under no circumstances should paralegals do so, regardless of their level of experience because they are not legally permitted to provide legal advice or represent clients in court as a non-lawyer.
Paralegals may communicate with clients on their cases as long as the communication does not include legal advice or any misleading statements. Since paralegals may be working closely with clients throughout their cases, clients may become confused about their role compared to their lawyer’s.
Any time a client asks a paralegal a direct question that could be considered soliciting legal advice a paralegal should respond that it is not within their scope of practice and any such questions should be directed towards their lawyer.
A Paralegal With Legal Software— The Ultimate Game Changer
Paralegals can be immensely helpful for a legal team looking for high-quality assistance in handling their workload. And while they may be incredibly helpful, unfortunately, they can’t do it all.
By having a clear understanding of what paralegals can and cannot do, you’ll know the best way to utilize a paralegal in your law firm and boost your team's efficiency.
By hiring an extra set of hands on deck paired with powerful legal technology like Lawmatics lawyers can free up more of their time to focus on billable work, and ultimately increase their law firm's profitability.
Lawmatics can help you automate the monotonous day-to-day tasks so you can get the most out of your paralegal’s time to help you with more hands-on work.
Are you ready to see how Lawmatics can up your law firm’s game? Sign up for a free product demo today!