Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.
Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:
Investigate and gather the facts of a case
Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions
Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings.
Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.
Paralegals' specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work.
Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies' annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.
Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.
Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.
In small firms, paralegals' duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.
In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.
Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.
Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal's work is billed to the client.
Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.