Hiring An Independent Paralegal
(CNN) -- In our country, lawyers and judges regulate their own markets.
The upshot is that getting legal help is enormously expensive and out of
reach for the vast majority of Americans. Anyone faced with a contract
dispute, family crisis, foreclosure or eviction must pay a lawyer with a
JD degree to provide service one-on-one in the same way lawyers have
done business for hundreds of years.
Some Things You Should Know:
- Many law firms, in many states, now not only employ paralegals, BUT will bill you
for their paralegal's time--anywhere from $75 to $150 an hour.
- In many larger law firms, you will spend most of your time with your attorney's
paralegal--not your attorney. In some cases, clients don't even MEET their
attorneys until their court date. This is rare though.
- For many legal matters, such as bankruptcy, law firm patrons will be given a
lengthy 'packet' or 'questionnaire' to fill out. This questionnaire asks the
client ALL of the same information that is in the documents your attorney will
'prepare' for you. For example, with bankruptcy, this lengthy 'questionnaire'
asks you all the same financial, budget, asset, and liability questions that the
bankruptcy forms ask. If you filled out the 'questionnaire' yourself, you
practically did your own bankruptcy documents, keeping in mind of course, that
all of the information contained in the 'questionnaire' must be inserted into
the correct place on each of the many bankruptcy court forms or your bankruptcy
may be dismissed.
To Use a Paralegal Or Not?
More often than ever before, people are using paralegals to assist in their less
complicated matters. Paralegals can offer many benefits, such as price.
Technically, a 'paralegal' is a trained legal assistant supervised by an
attorney. A 'paralegal' who works on their own is called an 'independent
paralegal' because they are not supervised by a lawyer.
Statistics show in some states about 75% of divorces and 60% of bankruptcies are
done without lawyers. Many of these do-it-yourselfers have chosen independent
What can an independent paralegal do for you? A paralegal is more than a
clerical person. S/he is familiar with local forms, local rules, and has
knowledge about local processes.
An independent paralegal can NOT give you legal advice, represent you in court,
or choose your forms for you. Many paralegals also do not file your forms at the
court for you or "prepare" your paperwork. Paralegals may avoid these activities
in order to protect themselves from being charged with the crime "unauthorized
practice of law" (UPL). Instead the paralegal may provide information, perform
typing, proofreading, and give other assistance.
In some states, independent paralegals can become licensed and registered. This
shows, once again, the popularity of their services. For example, in California,
independent paralegals 1 or 'Legal Document Assistants' must be
registered with the county and possess a bond.
"Paralegal" Defined by the National Federation of
Paralegal Associations: Choose a paralegal who has at least a 'Paralegal
Certificate' which proves she/he is trained. Ask if the paralegal's training
program was ABA-approved. The most reputable paralegal training courses are
approved by the American Bar Association.
"As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, a Paralegal is
a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform
substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is
customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be
retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other
entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to
perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition,
evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and
legal concepts. "
An independent paralegal is not employed by a law firm or supervised by an
attorney. An independent paralegal does not give â€˜legal advice'
How Do I Choose a Good Independent Paralegal?
Choose a paralegal service that is established. You can do this by making sure
they are licensed with the state and have no Better Business Bureau complaints nor listed on
www.ripoffreport.com. Be sure
to ask the paralegal what exactly their fees cover. Do they charge an hourly
rate? Does their flat rate include providing you with self-help information?
Will they be filing your paperwork for you? Does the paralegal's fee include the
court filing fee?
Choose a paralegal service that makes reputable do-it-yourself materials
available to you. There are numerous trustworthy self-help legal publishers:
Sphinx (By Sourcebooks), Self-Counsel Press, Career Press, InfoAmerica,
Bradford, Alpha, Nova, Nolo Press, Washington Legal Blank & Do It Yourself Documents.
Choose a paralegal service that advertises honestly. Ads that say, "Divorce
Preparation Just $99" are hard-to-believe for a reason. These types of ads
usually refer ONLY to divorces where there are no children, no property, no
debts and will still have hidden fees.
Choose a paralegal who belongs to a professional association. Some of the most
notable associations for independent paralegals are: Independent Paralegal
Association, California Association of Legal Document Assistants, Arizona
Independent Paralegal Association, and Independent paralegal Alliance of
Choose a paralegal who recognizes the possibility that some situations may
require an attorney. A trustworthy paralegal will not hesitate to tell you when
your situation is beyond the scope of a non-attorney. A good paralegal will even
help you find an affordable alternative. Do It Yourself Documents has a long
list of attorneys that we recommend on a regular basis. On average a half dozen
times a day we find ourselves recommending/suggesting that someone seek the
advice of an attorney for their individual situation.
Your State's Bar Association
1 An excerpt from:
http://calda.org/visitors.asp#NewProfession, regarding California redefining
independent paralegals within the state of California:
Who are Legal Document Assistants? (LDA)
Legal Document Assistants were once commonly known as Independent Paralegals.
However, as of January 1st, 2000, only those Paralegals working directly for
attorneys may now be referred to as Paralegals. Those formerly known as
Independent Paralegals are now officially known as Legal Document Assistants
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
HIRING AN INDEPENDENT PARALEGAL
Also see our
research & info section.
Did You Know?
"According to the National Resource Center for Consumers
of Legal Services,
the average person faces legal issues four to six times a year."
--Black Enterprise, July 1997
"You are three times more likely to be in court than you
are to be hospitalized."
-National Center for State Courts/American Hospital Association
"More than half of all households have a legal situation
The top 10% can easily afford legal access... The bottom
10% have access
to legal aid or a public defender... The rest of us shop at