I. What Is A Paralegal?
"A 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." (American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals)
The Paralegal is designed to prepare students for work in general practice law firms, courts, public agencies, legal departments of companies and other law-related positions. Students should explore career options and employment opportunities to be certain they will meet employers' requirements. A paralegal may not provide legal services directly to the general public.
II. How Is A Paralegal Utilized?
The primary purpose of a paralegal is to enable an attorney to be more efficient in delivering quality legal representation. A paralegal can perform specifically delegated substantive work in a timely and cost-effective manner, allowing attorneys to concentrate on more complex legal work. Paralegals perform a variety of tasks.
Tasks commonly performed by the paralegal (UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A LAWYER) are as follows:
- Research case and statutory law, and prepare memoranda.
- Prepare routine pleadings, interrogatories, and answers to interrogatories, affidavits and related instruments.
- Conduct civil and criminal investigations.
- Maintain one or more systems concerning such areas of the law as corporations, estate planning, family law, probate, real estate, tax and litigation.
- Maintain docket control, including notification of clients, witnesses and attorneys.
- Prepare routine memoranda, correspondence and reports.
- Function as a real estate closing clerk preparing required documents and closing statements.
- Perform various office administrative functions.
- Conduct fact-finding interviews with clients and witnesses and conduct medical and scientific research.
- Make filings and record searches.
- Prepare tax returns.
- Prepare corporate filings and maintain current minute books.
III. Ethical Considerations and Limitations in the Use of a Paralegal
In the Code of Professional Responsibility as established by the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa, Canon 3 establishes the following responsibilities and limitations with regard to the use of paralegals:
- May not counsel clients in such a manner as to be giving legal advice, and must at all times apprise those persons with whom the paralegal is dealing, of the non-lawyer status.
- May not represent a client in court or other formal legal proceeding, including depositions, representation of clients in Small Claims Court and Unemployment Hearings, and the presentation of Orders for Court approval in probate or other proceedings.
- May not sign a pleading or legal document.
Other Ethical Considerations:
- A paralegal must maintain the confidences and secrets of the client.
- The attorney-client privilege also extends to paralegals.
- The attorney work-product privilege extends to paralegals.
- The paralegal may erect an ethical wall in instances when a conflict of interest exists involving the paralegal.
- A paralegal is permitted to sign letters on firm stationary as long as the paralegal status is clearly indicated. A paralegal that has passed the Certified Legal Assistant exam may use the words "Certified Legal Assistant," but not the designation "C.L.A."
- A paralegal may be furnished with and use a professional business card, which must contain the words "Paralegal" or "Certified Paralegal."
Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.