What is a Paralegal and what do they do? Many times, Lawyers and Paralegals are considered to be the same, but that is not the case.
Paralegals are different from Lawyers. They do not give legal services but work in the legal field. The main responsibility of a Paralegal is to support and assist Lawyers in their work. They work as the subordinates to their lawyers. Paralegals are hired by a law firm, an independent lawyer, law office,court authority or any other governmental agency relating to the area and the nature of the work.They could be a part of the support staff in firms or an assistant to an attorney.i Paralegals jobs in India are less but are increasing gradually.
History of Paralegals
The profession of Paralegals initially developed when a need for a legal professional position could be filled between a position of an attorney and a legal secretary, for legal services to be provided to the public at a much lower cost, less time and with efficiency.
In the 1960’s the need for legal services became a significant issue and thus, at the current stage, it includes increased use of paralegals to make legal services more affordable.
“ A legal or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” - As adopted by the ABA in 1997.
A Paralegal’s duty:
Arrangement of necessary documents to help their lawyers during trials and organize them in a proper manner and summarize interrogation or testimonies.
The primary role of a paralegal would be to assist lawyers in hearings and trials while writing down notes and reports while also maintaining the schedule of their lawyers. Other management and arrangements for travel would also be their responsibility. They Attend and help to prepare for trials, hearings and important meetings for the lawyer.
Other administrative and clerical work for the lawyer’s firm.
Draft legal documents, correspondence, pleadings and conduct and provide legal research, laws, and rules and regulations and conduct research and investigation on the facts of a case.
One of the very vital duties for a paralegal includes drafting and researching legal cases. They find appropriate and relatable laws, precedents, legal articles that are relevant to current legal cases. So,gathering important information, studying and analyzing it is a very crucial duty for paralegals.
An attorney or a lawyer can represent clients and argue in courts whereas Paralegals work under a lawyer to assist them in their work.
When a common man finds it difficult to understand the technical legal procedure and law jargon, the paralegal attempts to simplify it.They cannot give legal advice, or accept fees from the clients directly.If they do so, it is considered as unauthorized practice of law. They, however, can in some cases interview clients or locate and interview a witness on the direction of their supervisor and maintain general contact with the clients. Even though it is an assistant role, their job is very essential and necessary in the legal field as they perform all back functions for the attorneys. They can take on more projects other than the points mentioned above, as per their expertise in the field. It involves a great deal of paperwork but paralegals could free up the time of their lawyers and take off a part of their workload.
Unlike lawyers, they usually do not require to attend a Law college or own a Bar license.
In India, The candidate should have cleared class 12th, in any area or field.
Bachelor’s Degree in any field (Preferred)
Any other advanced and higher education could improve their prospects.
Certification or a Diploma in Paralegal services from any university. (Optional).
Diploma in Paralegal services in India
Indira Gandhi Open University ( IGNOU), Delhi- Distance learning course for 1 year.
Certificate courses in Paralegal services in India
Symbiosis Law College (SLS), Pune- 1 year
Central University of Tamil Nadu
Other essential skills:
Analytical and technical skills, Research skills, communication skills, organizational and interpersonal skills, legal reasoning skills, logical reasoning skills, detail-oriented, computer knowledge and technology skills, ability to multitask, willingness to learn, discipline.
Types of Paralegals
There are different kinds of lawyers like civil, corporate or criminal lawyers. Paralegals can work under any of them according to their choice and area of interest and expertise.
Therefore, different kinds of paralegals would be Litigation Paralegal, Corporate Paralegal, Family Paralegal, Bankruptcy Paralegal, Intellectual Property Rights Paralegal and many others.
Scope in India
In India, the concept or the post of Paralegals is almost as good as non-existent or may exist informally.There are hardly any job posts for paralegals as their work is substituted by interns. Students working under lawyers as an internship start as a paralegal itself. Interns in any law firms in India could be called paralegals. Basically, anybody who assists a lawyer in subordinate work can be called as paralegals.
Paralegals in India could usually mean interns just working for a long- term in a law firm but perform the same work as the paralegal. There is massive competition for high-performing lawyers itself in India, finding a salary paying job as a under a paralegal post in India could be even more difficult. Although, there are certificate courses or diplomas for Paralegal services in India which can give a student an upper hand for securing good internships in India before getting into law school. With prior practical and diversified experience, the chances of getting into the desired law school, even if applying abroad, could rise.This experience could also in turn help you explore and narrow down your areas of interest. There is no age criteria or a minimum level of education in a strict sense. Good communication skills could come in handy for a lawyer and the willingness to help attorneys even in menial tasks could make an individual a good paralegal.
A paralegal/intern/legal assistant work is not difficult to find as lawyers exist in almost every part of India and every lawyer needs a paralegal. An increase in demand for lawyers in today’s world will increase the demand for paralegals as well. But, In India, It might not be a respected post as a job. Paralegals are very active in the UK, the US and Canada with a good amount of salaries as well. If a job for a paralegal is applied in the US, one could end up making thousands of dollars annually.The job is similar to that in India, but with a more definite salary and has an official post.
In India, as paralegals do not formally exist, the role that is performed by interns could be paid or unpaid at least at the entry-level as this is an opportunity for learning practical experience and is considered as a step taken for exposure into the real world of working and practicing lawyers for the students.
There is a possibility of this profession developing in the coming years in India as many universities have started providing more and more official and extensive “Paralegal Training” courses for students and for those who want to work in a legal field but are not lawyers.
The pros and cons:
Becoming a Paralegal could have some benefits such as having an extensive knowledge of law, organization skills, low investment but with good returns in the job.
A Paralegal progression can be rewarding but challenging with a variety of job roles.There is an extensive growth in this profession now and according to reports and research, this profession might face a greater increase in the future in India.
But the disadvantages for the same are, there might be a lot of workload which causes stress and pressure. It becomes stressful for beginners to handle their tasks with ease but might get a hang of it after some period with practice. They could be told to work for long hours with almost no social life or leave without compensation or payment for the same.
In India, with having the same amount of work and time to put in as the paralegals working in the US or the UK on an official post, might get very little recognition and salary (stipend).
The role of paralegals is fascinating as it contains research and writing most of the time. It helps in understanding law, the judicial system and human nature in depth. Legal field is such a field that when studied, it provides an all-rounder knowledge and helps us understand the court’s and the client’s perspective. However, Due to the increase in demand for lawyers and paralegals, to officialize and legitimize an official post for a paralegal in India would not be a terrible idea.
By Legal Studies, December 24, 2014, available at-
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By Project Paralegal, 2012. December 12, 2012.
This article is written by Girija Ambaskar of MKES COLLEGE OF LAW.