How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do? Forum

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nicole1994

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How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by nicole1994 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:23 pm

While I understand that lawyers can sign many documents that paralegals can't and that they can actually argue in court , obviously not everyone wants to end up in court/gets the opportunity to argue in court.

Moreover, I would hate to acquire 3 extra years of schooling only to find out that I would be doing the work that I could have done without a law degree (a credential which consumes a lot of $$ and time) .

This is true case despite the fact(s) that I love reading casebooks/learning to think like a lawyer and am trying to secure at least a half tuition scholarship to Law school to minimize losses.

After reading the TLS thread "day in the life of a lawyer" , many of the lawyers discussed drafting /reading legal documents as a major part of their work. Which I would not mind doing , but that would make law school less valuable if one can do that simply by becoming a paralegal.


So that is why I wanted to ask that assuming you won't go to court, what do lawyers in a small/mid size law firm do on a frequent basis which paralegals can't really do?




Thanks!

nicole1994

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by nicole1994 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:24 pm

Btw, I meant to ask what is the difference etc..(in the title of this post) as opposed to how is the difference. Sry :P

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Elston Gunn

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by Elston Gunn » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:29 pm

At a big firm at least it is completely different. Paralegals handle what is basically ops/case management/administrative work, like making indexes for binders or filing briefs and the like. Everything you think of as actual legal work is done by the lawyers. I can’t speak to small/mid size in particular, but the difference isn’t as much about what tasks you are legally able to do, as that you’re being hired for completely different jobs.

FND

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by FND » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:54 pm

Elston Gunn wrote:At a big firm at least it is completely different. Paralegals handle what is basically ops/case management/administrative work, like making indexes for binders or filing briefs and the like. Everything you think of as actual legal work is done by the lawyers. I can’t speak to small/mid size in particular, but the difference isn’t as much about what tasks you are legally able to do, as that you’re being hired for completely different jobs.
at a small firm / solo, if a paralegal is asked to do actual legal work, I strongly recommend fleeing. If the paralegal screws up, it's a bar complaint to the attorney with maybe reprimand, maybe a suspension, but for the paralegal, well, the unauthorized practice of law is a felony in many states.

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cavalier1138

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by cavalier1138 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 2:27 pm

FND wrote:at a small firm / solo, if a paralegal is asked to do actual legal work, I strongly recommend fleeing. If the paralegal screws up, it's a bar complaint to the attorney with maybe reprimand, maybe a suspension, but for the paralegal, well, the unauthorized practice of law is a felony in many states.
Yeah, if OP thinks that paralegals are doing "everything" lawyers at the firm do, minus appearing in court, then those lawyers are violating the ethics rules on a daily basis. Since I doubt that's the case in most firms, I'm betting that the OP doesn't actually know what paralegals do.

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nicole1994

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by nicole1994 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 2:50 pm

The reason I thought that parlegals do (almost everything ) - Court is bc I was just going off of what I read from what paralegals and lawyers said on this site and others.

However, it is super great to know that lawyers and paralegals do different substantive tasks and that I can make use of my future degree :)))

FND

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by FND » Mon Mar 18, 2019 3:04 pm

nicole1994 wrote:The reason I thought that parlegals do (almost everything ) - Court is bc I was just going off of what I read from what paralegals and lawyers said on this site and others.

However, it is super great to know that lawyers and paralegals do different substantive tasks and that I can make use of my future degree :)))
yeah, no.

A) paralegals are prohibited from retaining clients. Only the attorney may do so
B) while paralegals may aid in legal research, the attorney must evaluate case law and reach conclusions
C) while paralegals may help in document preparation, the attorney must review for accuracy and completeness
D) Paralegals may not review the documents with the client, discuss the purpose or the ins-and-outs of the documents, answer legal questions about the documents, etc.

Basically, a paralegal's job is to support the attorney; he or she may perform menial tasks, but may not take any action requiring legal training. Basically, think of the olden days where an attorney would dictate and the paralegal would write or type up the document. If the function can be done by a (well-trained) monkey, a paralegal is allowed to do it. If the function cannot be done by a well-trained monkey, it's probably not permitted

*note: not comparing paralegals to monkeys; you could substitute small child for monkey. Also, I highly value my paralegals, they make my life easier in many ways.

nicole1994

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by nicole1994 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:01 pm

Ok, thanks .this provides better insight than what I found online.

I guess I was trying to figure out what job duties constitut the functions that can't be taught to "a well trained monkey" LOL. If at all you are able to elaborate , that would be great.

Thank you !!

FND wrote:
nicole1994 wrote:The reason I thought that parlegals do (almost everything ) - Court is bc I was just going off of what I read from what paralegals and lawyers said on this site and others.

However, it is super great to know that lawyers and paralegals do different substantive tasks and that I can make use of my future degree :)))
yeah, no.

A) paralegals are prohibited from retaining clients. Only the attorney may do so
B) while paralegals may aid in legal research, the attorney must evaluate case law and reach conclusions
C) while paralegals may help in document preparation, the attorney must review for accuracy and completeness
D) Paralegals may not review the documents with the client, discuss the purpose or the ins-and-outs of the documents, answer legal questions about the documents, etc.

Basically, a paralegal's job is to support the attorney; he or she may perform menial tasks, but may not take any action requiring legal training. Basically, think of the olden days where an attorney would dictate and the paralegal would write or type up the document. If the function can be done by a (well-trained) monkey, a paralegal is allowed to do it. If the function cannot be done by a well-trained monkey, it's probably not permitted

*note: not comparing paralegals to monkeys; you could substitute small child for monkey. Also, I highly value my paralegals, they make my life easier in many ways.

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by QContinuum » Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:44 pm

This whole thread is frankly quite puzzling to me. What do lawyers do that paralegals and other nonlawyers don't do? Lawyers practice law. It's what makes lawyers lawyers. Sure, lawyers can (and often do) also do nonlegal work, including support work that a paralegal or secretary could legally do. Many solos function without paralegals, and even at the largest firms, BigLawyers inevitably do their own grunt work from time to time when the need arises. But what sets lawyers apart from nonlawyers is the ability to legally practice law.

This is akin to asking "what do doctors do that nurses don't do?" Or "what do dentists do that hygienists don't do?" Or "what do anesthesiologists do that anesthesia techs don't do?" In all cases, the support professionals do exactly that: Provide support. The doctors, dentists, anesthesiologists, lawyers are ultimately responsible for exercising their professional judgment. The support professionals merely do what they're told to do in support of that judgment. The paralegal may pull shell documents and precedents for a lawyer to edit, and may even provide the lawyer with a list of relevant cases, but it's the lawyer who decides what the cases and precedents mean and it's the lawyer who ultimately writes the brief. (It's also the lawyer who is ultimately responsible for making sure the legal research conducted is thorough - the lawyer cannot merely rely on the paralegal's legal research.) The nurse may take a patient's vitals and draw his blood, but it's the doctor who decides what the vitals mean and chooses which diagnostic tests to order. The anesthesia tech may wheel in the anesthesia equipment and hook the patient up, but it's the anesthesiologist who decides what drugs - and what dosages - the tech administers. The hygienist may take bite-wing X-rays of a patient's mouth, but it's the dentist who reviews and interprets the X-rays.

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nicole1994

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by nicole1994 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 7:17 pm

My question was basically what does it mean to practice law. Sorry if I was overthinking it, It is just that while we have all been to the dentist/doc, the reality is that a lot of applicants don't even know what practicing law means. I thought this might be the place to ask since I don't know many lawyers myself and the onws I could also wouldn't be available till later , and also because I heard getting experience as a paralegal didn't give some ppl who worked this position a good idea of what attorneys do.

Thanks though.you answered my question
QContinuum wrote:This whole thread is frankly quite puzzling to me. What do lawyers do that paralegals and other nonlawyers don't do? Lawyers practice law. It's what makes lawyers lawyers. Sure, lawyers can (and often do) also do nonlegal work, including support work that a paralegal or secretary could legally do. Many solos function without paralegals, and even at the largest firms, BigLawyers inevitably do their own grunt work from time to time when the need arises. But what sets lawyers apart from nonlawyers is the ability to legally practice law.

This is akin to asking "what do doctors do that nurses don't do?" Or "what do dentists do that hygienists don't do?" Or "what do anesthesiologists do that anesthesia techs don't do?" In all cases, the support professionals do exactly that: Provide support. The doctors, dentists, anesthesiologists, lawyers are ultimately responsible for exercising their professional judgment. The support professionals merely do what they're told to do in support of that judgment. The paralegal may pull shell documents and precedents for a lawyer to edit, and may even provide the lawyer with a list of relevant cases, but it's the lawyer who decides what the cases and precedents mean and it's the lawyer who ultimately writes the brief. (It's also the lawyer who is ultimately responsible for making sure the legal research conducted is thorough - the lawyer cannot merely rely on the paralegal's legal research.) The nurse may take a patient's vitals and draw his blood, but it's the doctor who decides what the vitals mean and chooses which diagnostic tests to order. The anesthesia tech may wheel in the anesthesia equipment and hook the patient up, but it's the anesthesiologist who decides what drugs - and what dosages - the tech administers. The hygienist may take bite-wing X-rays of a patient's mouth, but it's the dentist who reviews and interprets the X-rays.

LawSchools2MuchPwr

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by LawSchools2MuchPwr » Tue Apr 09, 2019 3:17 pm

If you're at my mid-sized litigation firm, you do everything except argue in court, physically take the deposition, and provide direct advice to clients. Other than that, you do basically everything. I draft briefs, draft motions, sit in deposition and pass post-its, read the docs, make exhibits, draft pleadings, cringe when the lawyer who just got pro hac'ed into the case says something wrong...ya know...gets pretty crazy. All this among other things.

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Re: How is the difference between what lawyers Actually do compared to what paralegals do?

Post by Lxwind » Tue Apr 09, 2019 6:18 pm

nicole1994 wrote:My question was basically what does it mean to practice law. Sorry if I was overthinking it, It is just that while we have all been to the dentist/doc, the reality is that a lot of applicants don't even know what practicing law means. I thought this might be the place to ask since I don't know many lawyers myself and the onws I could also wouldn't be available till later , and also because I heard getting experience as a paralegal didn't give some ppl who worked this position a good idea of what attorneys do.

Thanks though.you answered my question
QContinuum wrote:This whole thread is frankly quite puzzling to me. What do lawyers do that paralegals and other nonlawyers don't do? Lawyers practice law. It's what makes lawyers lawyers. Sure, lawyers can (and often do) also do nonlegal work, including support work that a paralegal or secretary could legally do. Many solos function without paralegals, and even at the largest firms, BigLawyers inevitably do their own grunt work from time to time when the need arises. But what sets lawyers apart from nonlawyers is the ability to legally practice law.

This is akin to asking "what do doctors do that nurses don't do?" Or "what do dentists do that hygienists don't do?" Or "what do anesthesiologists do that anesthesia techs don't do?" In all cases, the support professionals do exactly that: Provide support. The doctors, dentists, anesthesiologists, lawyers are ultimately responsible for exercising their professional judgment. The support professionals merely do what they're told to do in support of that judgment. The paralegal may pull shell documents and precedents for a lawyer to edit, and may even provide the lawyer with a list of relevant cases, but it's the lawyer who decides what the cases and precedents mean and it's the lawyer who ultimately writes the brief. (It's also the lawyer who is ultimately responsible for making sure the legal research conducted is thorough - the lawyer cannot merely rely on the paralegal's legal research.) The nurse may take a patient's vitals and draw his blood, but it's the doctor who decides what the vitals mean and chooses which diagnostic tests to order. The anesthesia tech may wheel in the anesthesia equipment and hook the patient up, but it's the anesthesiologist who decides what drugs - and what dosages - the tech administers. The hygienist may take bite-wing X-rays of a patient's mouth, but it's the dentist who reviews and interprets the X-rays.
I work in a small litigation PI firm as a research associate and since we are currently understaffed, I also help with the cases, essentially functioning as a paralegal. I draft complaints and briefs, prepare exhibits, manage the procedural aspects of cases, and conduct legal research for the attorneys by identifying relevant cases and highlighting quotes that we could potentially use. Sometimes I even try to apply the cases and write legal arguments based on them. However, I don't practice law - our attorneys review every single line I write and edit all the documents I draft before they are final. They decide whether the cases I found are relevant and if so, whether and where to put them in our briefs. They decide on the ouline of the cases and the major points of our arguments. They communicate with the court and the attorneys from the other side and decide on whether to agree to an adjournment, whether to submit a motion, etc. They make decisions on the litigation strategies and explain to the clients about what is happening. There are times when my draft goes on to be the final version without significant changes from the attorney, but still, I would say that my work is different from the work of an attorney. Even if the content is similar, they take much more responsibilities and

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