Hiring an attorney can be stressful. Most of the time, you only need an attorney when there’s a problem. In these cases, the attorney not only deals with the legal issue but has to manage their client’s emotions. Your attorney should be focused on the issues you are facing and creating, implementing and executing the best course of action for the best outcome. A strong, knowledgeable staff is extremely important to the success of an attorney.
Paralegals, or Legal Assistants, serve a variety of functions in a law firm. Some learn on the job, but now there are programs, such as the Paralegal Technology Program at Carteret County Community College, that are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The Associate’s and Post-Baccalaureate degrees require the mastery of basic legal concepts, as well as procedures for document preparation and court filings in courses such as Legal Research and Writing, Law Office Management, Legal Ethics, Tort Law, Civil Litigation and a variety of other fields of law. In North Carolina, a Paralegal that meets certain criteria has the opportunity to sit for the NC State Bar Exam for Paralegals to become Certified. Continuing Education courses are required to maintain certification. Paralegals and Legal Assistants cannot practice law or give legal advice, but act as a conduit between the attorney and the client. The attorney provides case notes to Paralegals in order for them to discuss your case status.
In our Criminal Law, a Paralegal performs the client intake. Specific questions are asked as a screening process to save you and the attorney time, especially when facing a pending court date. The more information provided to the attorney prior to your consultation will make the process easier. Paralegals are held to the same ethical standards as attorneys. Confidentiality is imperative. The information used during the client intake process allows Paralegals to schedule appointments according to how long the consultation may take. A DWI case will require a longer discussion than a speeding ticket. There’s a major asset for an attorney having Paralegals that have completed an ABA Approved Paralegal Degree, as they are able to decipher legal jargon and communicate attorney notes more effectively. Their knowledge of the legal system provides the ability to explain complex information in a manner that the average person will understand.
Receiving a call from a Paralegal is actually good news. Usually if you receive a call directly from the attorney, there is a more serious reason, as your attorney has to schedule time to spend discussing the issue. That’s not to say your attorney will only call you with a problem, but for the majority of legal issues, it’s a good sign to receive a call from the Paralegal. It is easier to get an immediate answer from the Paralegal rather than scheduling an appointment or demanding to speak directly with your attorney.
By Bonnie Dubier, NC State Bar Certified Paralegal #598831