Nature of the Work
The nature of the work of paralegals is changing and regulation or licensure is in every paralegal's future. Approximately one-half of the states currently have voluntary regulation or expanded practice definitions that require either substantial experience or an ABA approved degree and successful passing of either a local or nationals competency exam. This trend will continue and will likely allow trained paralegals the ability to represent clients directly in a limited capacity.
The ABA has long supported the use of paralegals and legal assistants in the legal field and established the first standing committee on paralegals in 1968.
As of February 17, 2020, the ABA adopted the definition of paralegal as: "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 who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. This updated definition removes the term "legarl assistant" in order to reflect terminology that more accurately reflects the type of substantive work that Paralegals perform. (www.americanbar.org)
Although lawyers are responsible for every aspect of the practice of law, paralegals can be delegated any task normally performed by a lawyer, as long as the lawyer supervises the work, except those proscribed by law. For example, paralegals can review and organize client files, conduct factual and legal research, prepare documents for legal transactions, draft pleadings and discovery notices, interview clients and witnesses, and assist at closings and trials. Generally, paralegals may not: (1) establish the lawyer's relationship with the client or set fees to be charged, (2) give legal advice to a client, and (3) may not represent clients in court, take depositions, or sign pleadings. However, some federal and state administrative agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, do permit non-lawyer practice. Paralegal time can be billed separately to clients and, thus, utilizing paralegals is income producing for attorneys and, also, improves communication and service to clients.
Source: ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services (PDF)
ABA House of Delegates adoption of resolution setting forth the definitions of Paralegal, 102B, February 17,2020.