Hiring An Independent Paralegal

CNN Story regarding nonlawyers
(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.  Read more...

Some Things You Should Know:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 paralegals instead.

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 ‘legal advice' or ‘practice law.'

How Do I Choose a Good Independent Paralegal?
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