Unless you have had a reason to work closely with an attorney during your lifetime you are likely unfamiliar with the customs and procedures typically used by a law office. This can lead to concern and confusion. For example, clients are often confused when they receive correspondence from a paralegal or when they are transferred to a paralegal upon calling the office. Although no two attorneys operate exactly the same way, there are some common practices with regard to the use of paralegals in law offices. Understanding the role of a paralegal may help put you at ease if you work with one someday.
Most people seek the advice and assistance of an attorney for matters that are personal in nature. Your estate planning attorney, for instance, helps you develop a plan that determines how your assets are divided when you die. This requires an intimate degree of knowledge about you, your assets, your finances, and even your familial relationships. Understandably, you may not feel comfortable discussing personal details with just anyone. A better understanding of the relationship between attorney and paralegal should make you feel more comfortable communicating with your attorney’s paralegal from time to time.
A paralegal is generally someone who has received a degree or certification in paralegal studies. Paralegal studies involves a study of the law but not at the same level as law school. Instead, paralegal studies focuses on providing the skills necessary to assist an attorney. A paralegal often conducts legal research, drafts legal documents, and communicates with clients when the attorney is unavailable; however, a paralegal is always supervised by an attorney. A paralegal cannot practice law and does not actually represent clients or give legal advice. Depending on the relationship between attorney and paralegal though, a paralegal does frequently have extensive contact with clients and may handle simple tasks that do not require the attorney’s personal attention. For example, a paralegal might meet with you briefly if you need to drop off paperwork for your attorney or might contact you with questions the attorney has about an issue you are working on together.
Although a paralegal may handle a good deal of the communication between attorney and client, you always have the right to ask to speak specifically to your attorney. Furthermore, your attorney alone will work with you to develop your estate planning strategies and will personally ensure that all estate planning documents are properly drafted and executed.
Understanding the role of a paralegal should make you more comfortable should you be asked to work with one; however, if you remain uncomfortable be sure to tell your attorney that you prefer not to work with the paralegal.