It is no secret that legal fees can be very high due to the extensive amount of work that the attorneys have to do in order to successfully complete a case. However, amongst all the work attorneys do, there are multiple things that can be done by someone who does not necessarily have a legal degree. This is where paralegals step in. Nowadays, their importance in the legal field cannot be underestimated. Every attorney should have paralegal support to reduce the cost of their service and free up time for more complicated work. Having a paralegal makes a lawyer more efficient by allowing him to concentrate solely on the substantive legal issues of a case, while paralegals take the position of the "case managers." The lawyer's primary job is to consider, analyze and strategize, whereas a paralegal's primary responsibility is to carry out the tasks based on the lawyer’s analysis. Per the American Bar Association: "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 who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible." Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a paralegal's work rests directly and solely upon the lawyer.
So what exactly is it that paralegals do? It would be impossible to itemize all of the tasks performed by a paralegal in this short article. Perhaps the most time-consuming task, however, is the paralegal’s role in assisting with discovery. Discovery is the method by which a party learns about the other side’s case, including assets, liabilities, and other information. Discovery is often conducted by asking formal questions of the other side, called “Interrogatories,” and requesting the other side to produce documents. The scope of discovery can be quite extensive, ranging sometimes to several boxes filled with documents. Review, organization and production of those documents can take hours of a paralegal’s time. Identifying deficiencies, drafting objections to requests and docketing the deadlines for discovery production take additional time.
Paralegals also help attorneys save time and clients’ money by doing legal research and writing reports that lawyers use to prepare their cases, drafting pleadings and correspondence, and preparing draft affidavits, orders, property settlements agreements and other important documents. Being the point of contact for the clients, opposing counsel, and often the court, is often the responsibility of a paralegal. Prior to trial, paralegals are also responsible for preparing subpoenas and staying in contact with the process servers ensuring the proper service. An attorney relies heavily on good paralegal support for preparation for hearings as well as trial.
Often the key to successful management of the case is careful and thoughtful organization of the client’s file. More often than not the paralegal is the one responsible for the organization and up-to-date maintenance of a file. It is his or her responsibility to stay on top of what is going on in the case and help ensure that the attorney does not to miss a deadline.
The billing rate of a paralegal is often significantly lower than that of an attorney. This can result in a significant savings to the client for time expended on his or her case by a paralegal performing work to the extent appropriate. The paralegal’s role in litigation is not only to save attorney time but to save clients’ money by helping to minimize the costs of litigation.