After reading the articles and reflecting
upon experience, there is very much a fine line between a paralegal’s
expectations and responsibilities and an attorney’s responsibilities.
However, it is crucial for your supervising attorney to very
specifically define he or her expectations and responsibilities for
their paralegal. It allows for better and more efficient flow within an
office. And, I think it is even more important for attorneys to
understand the role of a paralegal or legal assistance in their
In the past, I worked for an attorney that expected me to perform certain functions that were not legally or ethically correct. Such roles included signatories of wills under the attorney’s name, which ultimately led to my resignation. I would rather the attorney be held liable than myself should the practices ever been called into question. But, it relates back to the article – Legal Assistants: An Evolving Role in the Practice of Law in Alabama, 63 Ala. Law. 178 (May 2002), written by Gloria McPherson. The concept or role of a paralegal/legal assistant is fairly “new”. Some attorneys, especially small town firm attorneys, are not as aware of the correct functionality of a legal assistant. Did my previous supervisor question the ethicality and legality of his paralegal signing his name? I will never know.
Currently, as a Clerk within the Clerk’s Office for Circuit Court, we still face the same challenges when speaking to the public and relaying information. Attorney’s admitted to the bar are the only authorized practitioners of law. As a clerk we are only allowed to give procedural information to pro se litigants. That might include defining who is a Plaintiff and Defendant. Or, what form do I need to file for divorce? I can answer all those questions, but I cannot tell anyone what their legal right is to alimony. I, also, cannot tell a pro se litigant how to draft a complaint for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Trust me, no pro se litigant likes hearing a Clerk say, “You must seek an attorney to answer those questions.” It has greatly improved my patience with disgruntled individuals!
I look forward to working for an attorney, again. I find satisfaction assisting attorneys who truly believe in justice and solace for their clients. Also, I am still throwing the idea of law school around. I have been doing that for a long time. It just seems a little daunting with a 1 year old at home. However, one of the most accomplished attorneys I know attended law school while working full time and had three young children at home.