Paralegals are not lawyers. Indeed, their whole raison d'être is that they are not lawyers. However, that does not mean that there is no crossover.
Answering the question "what do paralegals do?" is tricky because "paralegal" is a default, catch-all term describing many different legal roles.
Broadly speaking, however, the paralegal job differs from the job of a lawyer in that it is a "doing" job.
What Tasks Does a Paralegal perform?
One could describe a lawyer’s responsibility as that of considering a matter from all angles, working out implications, consequences, issues, liability, important gaps in knowledge and strategy.
In contrast, the paralegal’s role is typically, to carry out a course of action suggested by the lawyer. They can interview witnesses, take statements, research elements of the law, and question, study and incorporate relevant documents into disclosure including completing, filing and serving legal documents. That said, the above distinction is gradually being eroded, as in many legal practices paralegals are becoming more and more specialised after years of dealing with particularised aspects of law. On some occasions paralegals have more of a grasp on issues than solicitors who do not deal with that particular aspect of the law. In some cases, and when dealing with more complex legal work in a specialist case, consumer may find the lawyer will seek the advice of a paralegal who is competent, who has studied the law surrounding the product and the selling of that product and more importantly who has attained a licence.
In those specialist areas of legal practice, where many cases are very similar in nature (e.g. timeshare, leisure credits and long-term holiday products) using a specialist is a simplified process driven route and paralegals are increasingly handling cases from start to finish. They have proven to be the bedrock of understanding particular contractual disputes and do have control of the case from start to finish.
It is still the case that lawyers will continue to deal with other complex matters, where large sums of money are at stake (e.g. mergers and acquisitions or where one liberty is at stake, like murder trials. In those cases, the involvement of a paralegal tends to be of a peripheral basis.
In view of the growing number of paralegal law firms (commercial entities offering legal services to the public and businesses, without any lawyer involvement) means that we may find that paralegals will be doing the more complex work eventually – although it probably will not be anytime soon.
What’s the Difference between a Lawyer, a Solicitor and a Barrister?
The term Lawyer is a generic term used to describe anyone who is a Licensed Legal Practitioner qualified to give legal advice in one or more areas of law. Put simply, Solicitors and Barristers are both types of Lawyer.
What is a Solicitor?
A solicitor is a qualified legal professional and an “Officer of the Court” who provides expert legal advice and support to clients in a particular Legal Jurisdiction (England or Wales). Solicitor's clients can be individuals, groups of people, private Companies or Public-Sector Organisations PSO’s.
Most solicitors can and do work directly with clients who seek advice. Although, if the area of expertise falls outside the topic being discussed they will naturally consider if, the needs of the client is best served by another who is more experienced or qualified. A solicitor’s work may involve conversing with clients to establish if their firm is suitable to provide the required legal advice and service. If they are suitable they can then take instructions and advise their Clients on the law, the legal aspects of the case as well as general issues relating to the case the clients wish to advance. A solicitor is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Association [SRA] and they will display their registration number for all to see.
Solicitors represent clients in Court and, if necessary, in more complex disputes. Solicitors will often instruct Barristers or Specialist advocates who will appear in Court on behalf of their clients.
If a case does proceed to Court, it is unlikely that a Solicitor will represent their client although certain solicitors are permitted to appear as advocates.
The term “McKenzie Friend” is a person who can assist a “litigant in person” to deliver a case in a court of law in England and Wales. The Makenzie Friend does not need to be legally qualified however it is always wise to appoint one who is more familiar with the issues being advanced, so they can give the “LiP” pointers along the way as the case progresses.
The crucial point is a “litigant in person” is entitled to be assisted by lay or other legal professionals unless there are exceptional and objectional circumstances.
Their role of “the friend” is set out in the eponymous 1970 case McKenzie v McKenzie. Although, in saying this, in many cases a McKenzie friend may be an “actual friend”, however, it is often someone with knowledge of the area of law concerning the case or someone who can assist in the delivery process.
The Makenzie friend’s role is generally to sit with the litigant and to prompt them, take notes and suggest questions in cross-examination, thereby providing what is termed as “quiet assistance”