During the past two decades, paralegals have become highly visible and valued members of the legal profession. Paralegals are playing key roles in the legal services team and performing a wide variety of substantive legal work delegated by attorneys. By historic standards, though, “paralegal” is still relatively new as an occupational category distinct from the lawyer, law clerk, or legal secretary.
Through its Standing Committee on Paralegals, the ABA adopted model guidelines for lawyers in the utilization of legal assistants or paralegals, and a definition of legal assistant or paralegal: “A legal assistant or a paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
The Plan for Certification of Paralegals in North Carolina was approved by the North Carolina State Bar and adopted by the NC Supreme Court in 2004. Certification assists in the continuation of developing paralegal standards, raises the profile of the paralegal profession, signifies a greater level of achievement, and standardizes the level of expectation of the public and other legal professionals.
Employment opportunities for paralegals are varied. While the majority (75 percent, according to most national surveys) works for private law firms, many find positions with corporations, banks, non-profit and government agencies. Training as a paralegal provides instruction in basic legal principles and skills which can be transferred to various occupational settings. Former paralegals have successfully translated their legal skills and experience to fields such as mortgage lending, human resources, trust and estate administration, municipal administration, purchasing and property management.
The job market for paralegals in North Carolina is excellent. Paralegal skills and training are readily portable across state lines since paralegals are not required to pass a licensing examination in most states to practice in that state.
Local, state, and national paralegal associations are committed to the promotion of paralegal professionals throughout the country. It is through networking and professional development that paralegals grow in knowledge and increase their contributions to the law.
Unauthorized Practice of Law
In North Carolina, a paralegal cannot independently give legal advice to clients, represent clients in court, accept a case or set a fee. The American Bar Association has defined a paralegal as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”