What Paralegals and Legal Assistants Do
Paralegals and legal assistants may conduct legal research.
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 the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Organize and maintain documents in a paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write 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. However, their specific duties may vary depending on the size of the firm and the area of law in which the paralegal works.
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 prepare the legal arguments and 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, a litigation paralegal may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings.
Litigation paralegals may assist attorneys in preparing for trial by organizing document binders, creating exhibit lists, or drafting settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending the trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.
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 up to date on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials that are related to a trial, such as emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.
Paralegals may specialize in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.
Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff. They may also have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors.
The following are examples of types of paralegals:
Corporate paralegals 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, and retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials.