homepage Home ContactPage Contact privacy policy Privacy Policy
918-587-6828
fax: 918-582-6772  
Search :
banner
About Paralegals

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. Review this area and the links below to learn more about the paralegal profession and NALA's role in leading the field.

Click here to read about the Paralegal Profession in the
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011


This section sponsored by:

Visit MY LLC Today!


A legal assistant or 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. (Adopted by the ABA in 1997) 


What do paralegals do? What are their typical duties and responsibilities across the various specialty practice areas. Check out this article:  Typical Paralegal Duties  published in the 2009 Career Chronicle edition of Facts & Findings!


Facts & Findings for all paralegals!

News & Upcoming Events
Paralegal CLE App for iPad and Androids Now Available

NALA Advanced Paralegal Certification courses, and NALA Campus self-study programs are now available from the Apple Store and Google Play! Paralegals may now purchase or login to courses in which they are currently enrolled through this app. The app features a free course preview for each of the 32 programs, and access to course pre-tests for CP Exam prep courses!

More
Real Estate-Principles Released

The NALA Advanced Paralegal Certification Board has released the much anticipated Real Estate Principles course! Real Estate Principles is now available online . . .

More
New Advanced Certification Course - Child Custody

A new Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) course in Family Law – Child Custody, Support and Visitation is now available to paralegals seeking advanced certification in this specialty practice area ...

More
Limited Practice Rule for Nonlawyers Approved June 15

June 15, 2012 Washington Supreme Court Order #25700-A-1005 Consistent with GR 25 (the Supreme Court rule establishing the Practice of Law Board), the rule establishes a framework for the licensing and regulation of non-attorneys to engage in discrete activities that currently fall within the definition of the "practice of law" (as defined by GR 24) and which are currently subject to exclusive regulation and oversight by this Court. The rule itself authorizes no one to practice. It simply establishes the regulatory framework for the consideration of proposals to allow non-attorneys to practice.

More
Need a product or service for your office?

The NALA Vendor Directory is a terrific place to start. This is a list of legal vendors offering a great range of help including deposition services, document services, and investigations. Click the link below...
More      

 
Click here for more news articles
 
Definitions of "Paralegal"

Summary of Definitions of Terms: Legal Assistant and Paralegal
Released: January 23, 1997 (updated 1/02)

Introduction

The National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc., is a professional association composed of individual members and 92 state and local affiliated associations, representing over 18,000 legal assistants. Established in 1975, NALA goals and programs were developed by 800 charter members to:

  • increase the professional standing of legal assistants throughout the nation
  • provide uniformity in the identification of legal assistants
  • establish national standards of professional competence for legal assistants
  • provide uniformity among the states in the utilization of legal assistants

One of the services of this association is tracking legislative, court and bar association activities related the paralegal profession. The following is a summary of the various definitions of the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" as of June, 1998, from 27 states, the United States Supreme Court, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Legal Assistants.

Definition of Legal Assistant/Paralegal

National associations, bar associations, legislatures and supreme courts have addressed the definition of legal assistants and paralegals. Through discussions within each group, similarities in the identification and duties of legal assistants are emerging with routine consistency. The common threads in these definitions and discussions are:

Legal Assistants:

1) have received specialized training through formal education or many years of experience;
2) work under the supervision and direction of an attorney; and
3) perform non-clerical, substantive legal work in assisting an attorney.

This paper summarizes these definitions.

National Organizations

The definition of "legal assistant" adopted in 1984 by the National Association of Legal Assistants is as follows:

Legal assistants (also known as paralegals) are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.


In 1986, the American Bar Association adopted the following definition:

A legal assistant is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity, in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically-delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistant, the attorney would perform the task.

In 1997, the American Bar Association amended this definition. The 1997 version is:

A legal assistant or 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.

Both definitions recognize the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" as identical terms.

In fact, in recognition of the similarity of the definitions and the need for one clear definition, in July 2001, the NALA membership approved a resolution to adopt  the ABA definition.   

State Legislatures

Legislatures among the United States have also addressed this question. The State of Florida statute 57.104, effective 10/1/87, specifically states that legal assistants work under the direction of the supervision of an attorney.

Similar legislation was introduced in 1993 in the states of Indiana and Oklahoma. These bills call for the recoverability of legal assistant time in attorney fee awards. The Indiana bills (House Bill 1583; Senate Bill 424), passed April 27, 1993; now public law 93-6. They define paralegals as persons (1) qualified through education, training or work experience, and (2) employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity to work under the direction of an attorney in a capacity that involves the performance of substantive legal work that usually requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts and would be performed by the attorney in the absence of the paralegal. This definition is, essentially, the same as the definition adopted by the American Bar Association.

Oklahoma House Bill 1628 defined legal assistants in the same manner, using the ABA definition as a basis. This bill passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on February 15, 1993. It did not reach the Senate floor during the session.

The California legislature enacted a statute governing the use of the terms paralegal and legal assistant.  See Chapter 5.6 Paralegals 6450 of the Business and Professions Code. This law, effective January 1, 2001, defines "paralegal" as follows:

6450. (a) ‘‘Paralegal’’ means a person who either contracts with or is employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her. Tasks performed by a paralegal include, but are not limited to, case planning, development, and management; legal research; interviewing clients; fact gathering and retrieving information; drafting and analyzing legal documents; collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney; and representing clients before a state or federal administrative agency if that representation is permitted by statute, court rule, or administrative rule or regulation.

6454. The terms ‘‘paralegal,’’ ‘‘legal assistant,’’ ‘‘attorney assistant,’’ ‘‘freelance paralegal,’’ ‘‘independent paralegal,’’ and ‘‘contract paralegal’’ are synonymous for purposes of this chapter.

Illinois Senate Bill 995, passed and signed by the governor on July 7, 1995, sets forth a definition of a paralegal. Effective January 1, 1996, the bill amended the Statute on Statutes by adding Section 1.35 as follows:

Sec. 1.35. Paralegal. "Paralegal" means a person who is qualified through education, training, or work experience and is employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity to work under the direction of an attorney in a capacity that involves the performance of substantive legal work that usually requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts and would be performed by the attorney in the absence of the paralegal. A reference in an Act to attorney fees includes paralegal fees, recoverable at market rates.

The Pennsylvania legislature has addressed paralegals in its unauthorized practice of law statutes. Effective July 11, 1996, Section 2524(a) of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes now reads:

(a) General rule.--Except as provided in subsection (b), any person, including, but not limited to, a paralegal or legal assistant, who within this Commonwealth shall practice law, or who shall hold himself out to the public as being entitled to practice law, or use or advertise the title of lawyer, attorney at law, attorney and counselor at law, counselor, or the equivalent in any language, in such as a manner to convey the impression that he is a practitioner of the law of any jurisdiction, without being an attorney at law or a corporation complying with 15 Pa.C.S. Ch. 29 (relating to professional corporations), commits a misdemeanor of the third degree[.] upon a first violation. A second or subsequent violation of this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree.

This statute is in response to widespread concern that some individuals using the terms "paralegal" or "legal assistant" as their occupational title and in advertisements were doing so in a way that lead potential customers to believe they are authorized to deliver legal services. This legislation prohibits use of the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" in this fashion. Rather than serving as a definition of what paralegals may do, the statute informs the public that paralegals and legal assistants do not deliver legal services without attorney supervision and cannot hold themselves out as individuals entitled to practice law.

The State of Maine statutorily defined the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" in 1999.  By passage of LD 0724 the legislature has not only defined the terms,  it provides that a person who claims to be a paralegal or legal assistant and does not meet the statutory definition commits a civil violation for which a forfeiture of up to $1000 may be adjudged.  The adopted definition is:

"Paralegal" and "legal assistant" mean a person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by an attorney, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which an attorney is responsible." 

Supreme Court Recognition

The United States Supreme Court encourages and recognizes the use of legal assistants working under the supervision of an attorney.

It has frequently been recognized in the lower courts that paralegals are capable of carrying out many tasks, under the supervision of an attorney, that might otherwise be performed by a lawyer and billed at a higher rate. Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, S.Ct. At 2471-72 (1989).

State supreme courts have also addressed the definition of "legal assistant" or "paralegal" in their rules and in their opinions. Many of the state supreme court findings are included in this section. Further, the definitions of legal assistants or paralegals adopted by bar associations that are regulated by supreme courts are included in this section.

Kentucky
Among the earliest to address the utilization of paralegals in its rules is the Kentucky Supreme Court in adoption of rule 3.700 on September 4, 1979. The rule, revised through 1989, lists the following definition:

For the purposes of this Rule, a paralegal is a person under the supervision and direction of a licensed lawyer, who may apply knowledge of law and legal procedures in rendering direct assistance to lawyers engaged in legal research; design, develop or plan modifications or new procedures, techniques, services, processes or applications; prepare or interpret legal documents and write detailed procedures for practicing in certain fields of law; select, compile and use technical information from such references as digests, encyclopedias or practice manuals; and analyze and follow procedural problems that involve independent decisions.

Michigan
Effective January 1, 2001, the Michigan Supreme Court amended its rules to provide the following:

Rule 2.626 Attorney Fees.  An award of attorney fees may include an award for the time and labor of any legal assistant who contributed nonclerical, legal support under the supervision of an attorney, provided the legal assistant meets the criteria set forth in Article 1, Section 6 of the Bylaws of the State Bar of Michigan.

Article 1, Section 6 of the Bylaws of the State Bar of Michigan states:

Any person currently employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity engaged in the practice of law, in a capacity or function which involves the performance under the direction and supervision of an attorney of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts such that, absent that legal assistant, the attorney would perform the tasks and which is not primarily clerical or secretarial in nature, and;

(a) who has graduated from an ABA approved program of study for legal assistants and has a baccalaureate degree; or

(b) has received a baccalaureate degree in any field, plus not less than two years of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(c) who has received an associate degree in the legal assistant field, plus not less than two years of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(d) who has a minimum of four years of in-house training as a legal assistant;

may upon submitting proof thereof at the time of application and annually thereafter become a Legal Assistant Affiliate Member of the State Bar of Michigan.

Rhode Island
In Rhode Island Supreme Court Provisional Order No. 18, effective February 1,1983 and revised through October 31, 1990, "legal assistant" is defined as follows:

A legal assistant is one who under the supervision of a lawyer, shall apply knowledge of law and legal procedures in rendering direct assistance to lawyers, clients and courts; design, develop and modify procedures, techniques, services and processes; prepare and interpret legal documents; detail procedures for practicing in certain fields of law; research, select, access, and compile information from the law library and other references; and analyze and handle procedural problems that involve independent decisions.

The guidelines accompanying this definition emphasize that legal assistants shall work under the direction and supervision of a lawyer who shall be ultimately responsible for their work product.

New Mexico
The New Mexico Supreme Court Judicial Pamphlet 16, 1986, states that:

A 'legal assistant' means a person, not admitted to the practice of law, who provides assistance to a licensed lawyer and for whose work that licensed lawyer is ultimately responsible. The assistance may include, but is not limited to, record and statistical research; investigation; analysis of records, documents and facts; problem analysis; preparation of legal memoranda; assistance in drafting legal documents, interrogatories and correspondence; completion of forms which have been prepared by or under the supervision of the supervising attorney; location of reported decisions, cite checking and shepardizing; and interviews of clients and witnesses. These and other types of assistance must be provided under the supervision and direction of a licensed attorney. . . .

The commentary to this definition includes references to the fact that the definition of "legal assistant" is intended to cover those persons usually designated as "legal assistants," "paralegals" and "lawyers assistants."

In 1995 the Supreme Court amended SCRA 1986, 24-101 of the Rules Governing the New Mexico Bar to establish a division of the bar for legal assistants, affirming the definition and listing qualifications for division membership.

New Hampshire
Supreme Court Administrative Rule 35, Guidelines for the Utilization by Lawyers of the Services of Legal Assistants under the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct, amended through 1987, define a legal assistant as:

a person not admitted to the practice of law in New Hampshire who is an employee of or an assistant to an active member of the New Hampshire Bar, a partnership comprised of active members of the New Hampshire Bar or a Professional Association within the meaning of RSA Chapter 294-A, and who, under the control and supervision of an active member of the New Hampshire Bar, renders services related to but not constituting the practice of law.

South Dakota
In Rule 92-5, March 6, 1992, the Supreme Court of South Dakota adopted the following definition of legal assistants.

Legal assistants (also known as paralegals) are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the direct supervision of a licensed lawyer.

The rule further states that "any person having been convicted of a felony shall not serve as a legal assistant in the State of South Dakota, unless upon application to the Supreme Court of South Dakota, establishing good moral character and restoration of full civil rights, and its approval thereof."

The South Dakota rule goes on to list seven minimum qualifications as follows:

(1) Successful completion of the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) examination of the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc.; or

(2) Graduation from an ABA approved program of study for legal assistants; or

(3) Graduation from a course of study for legal assistants which is institutionally accredited but not ABA approved, and which requires not less than the equivalent of sixty semester hours of classroom study; or

(4) Graduation from a course of study for legal assistants, other than those set forth in (2) and (3) above, plus not less than six months of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(5) A baccalaureate degree in any field, plus not less than six months in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(6) A minimum of three years of law-related experience under the supervision of a lawyer, including at least six months of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(7) Two years of in-house training as a legal assistant.

Indiana
The Indiana Supreme Court adopted Guidelines on the Use of Legal Assistants January 1, 1994, which are part of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules provide:

"A legal assistant shall perform services only under the direct supervision of lawyer authorized to practice in the State of Indiana and in the employ of the lawyer or the lawyer’s employer. Independent legal assistants, to-wit, those not employed by a specific firm or by specific lawyers are prohibited. A lawyer is responsible for all of the professional actions of a legal assistant performing legal assistant services at the lawyer’s direction, and should take reasonable measures to insure that the legal assistant’s conduct is consistent with the lawyer’s obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct."

The guidelines provide that a lawyer may delegate to a legal assistant any task normally performed by the lawyer; however, any task prohibited by statute, court rule, administrative rule or regulation, controlling authority, (or the) Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct may not be assigned to a non-lawyer. They also provide that a lawyer may charge for the work performed by a legal assistant. Finally, the guidelines set forth a statement of legal assistant ethics and provide that all lawyers who employ legal assistants in the State of Indiana shall assure that such legal assistants conform their conduct to be consistent with stated ethical standards.

North Dakota 
Amendments to the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct adopted December 11, 1996 by the North Dakota Supreme Court, with an effective date of March 1, 1997, include rules which govern legal assistants/paralegals in North Dakota. Rules 1.5 (Fees), 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants, 7.2 Firm Names and Letterheads and the Terms section of the NDRPC include a definition of "legal assistant", suggested minimum standards, and comments related to supervision of legal assistants, the unauthorized practice of law and billing for work performed by a legal assistant.

The rules state the following definition:

"Legal Assistant" (or paralegal) means a person who assists lawyers in the delivery of legal services, and who through formal education, training, or experience, has knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualifies the person to do work of a legal nature under the direct supervision of a licensed lawyer.

Virginia
On March 8, 1996, the Virginia State Bar Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law adopted a resolution stating that a legal assistant working under direction of a member of the Virginia State Bar in conformance with the Standards and Guidelines would not be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and that the employment or supervision by a Virginia State Bar member of legal assistants who conform to the Standards and Guidelines would be in the best interest of the public.

The resolution recommends that members of the Virginia State Bar make all reasonable efforts to encourage all legal assistants to subscribe and conform to the Standards and Guidelines. This resolution adopts the following definition of a legal assistant (paralegal):

"as one who is a specially trained individual who performs substantive legal work that requires a knowledge of legal concepts and who either works under the supervision of an attorney, who assumes professional responsibility for the final work product, or works in areas where lay individuals are explicitly authorized by statute or regulation to assume certain law-related responsibilities."

Cases

Arizona
In Continental Townhouses E. Unit One Ass'n v. Brockbank, 152 Ariz. 537, 733P.2d 1120, 73 A.L.R.4th 921 (1986), the Arizona Court of Appeals considered whether the time of a non-lawyer employee may be included in attorney fee awards. In its opinion, the Court relied upon the definition of "legal assistant" formulated by the American Bar Association. The court also used the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" interchangeably.

New Jersey
In 1990, the New Jersey Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law issued Opinion No. 24 which held that legal assistants or paralegals who contract their services to attorneys are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The New Jersey Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law is appointed by the Supreme Court, thus its findings and opinions become Supreme Court Rule. This opinion was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued its Opinion on May 14,1992, and held:

The evidence does not support a categorical ban on all independent paralegals practicing in New Jersey. Given the appropriate instructions and supervision, paralegals, whether as employees or independent contractors, are valuable and necessary members of an attorney's work force in the effective and efficient practice of law.

The court further stated that charges for non-lawyers' time that properly fall within the definition of "attorney fees" are those that are clearly shown to have been made (1) for the delegated performance of substantive legal work, that (2) would otherwise have to be performed by a lawyer, (3) at a rate higher than that charged for non-lawyers' time.

Oklahoma
In Taylor v. Chubb, 874 P.2d 806 (Okla. 1994), the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that charges for legal assistants could and should be included by courts in attorney fee award decisions. In its decision, the court refers to the definition of a legal assistant as promulgated by the American Bar Association, and specifically enumerated a list of duties that may be properly performed by legal assistants as follows:

1. Interview clients
2. Draft pleadings and other documents
3. Carry on legal research, both conventional and computer aided
4. Research public records
5. Prepare discovery requests and responses
6. Schedule depositions
7. Summarize depositions and other discovery responses
8. Coordinate and manage document production
9. Locate and interview witnesses
10. Organize pleadings, trial exhibits and other documents
11. Prepare witness and exhibit lists
12. Prepare trial notebooks
13. Prepare for the attendance of witnesses at trial
14. Assist lawyers at trials
 

South Carolina
In The State of South Carolina v. Robinson, Opinion No 24391, filed March 18,1996, the court stated the function of a paralegal was addressed In re: Easler, 275, S.C.400, 272 S.E.2d 32 (1980):

Paralegals are routinely employed by licensed attorneys to assist in the preparation of legal documents such as deeds and mortgages. The activities of a paralegal do not constitute the practice of law as long as they are limited to work of a preparatory nature, such as legal research, investigation, or the composition of legal documents, which enable the licensed attorney-employer to carry a given matter to a conclusion through his own examination, approval or additional effort. Id. at 400, 272 S.E.2d at 32-33.

The opinions stated that while there are no regulations dealing specifically with paralegals, requiring a paralegal to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney ensures control over his or her activities by making the supervising attorney responsible. See Rule 5.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407SCACR (supervising attorney is responsible for work of non-lawyer employees). Accordingly, to legitimately provide services as a paralegal, one must work in conjunction with a licensed attorney."

Washington
Adopted 12/3/94, the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors has established guidelines for the utilization of legal assistant services. The guidelines are based on the ABA Model Guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistants and adopt the definition of legal assistant/paralegal promulgated by the American Bar Association.

In Absher Construction Company v. Kent School District, 29 Wn. App. 841, (1995),the Washington Court of Appeals considered the question of the award of non-lawyer time in attorney fee awards if the non-lawyer is a legal assistant. The Court defined a legal assistant as one who is "qualified through education, training, or work experience, is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity in a capacity or function which involves a performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically delegated legal work, which work, for the most part requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistant, the attorney would perform the task." The Court set forth the following criteria relevant in determining whether such services should be compensated:

1. The services performed by the nonlawyer personnel must be legal in nature.

2. The performance of these services must be supervised by an attorney.

3. The qualifications of the person performing the services must be specified in the request for fees in sufficient detail to demonstrate that the person is qualified by virtue of education, training, or work experience to perform substantive legal work.

4. The nature of the services performed must be specified in the request for fees in order to allow the reviewing court to determine that the services performed were legal rather than clerical.

5. As with attorney time, the amount of time expended must be set forth and must be reasonable; and

6. The amount charged must reflect reasonable community standards for charges by that category of personnel.

Bar Association Activity

Bar associations in the following states have defined legal assistants as qualified and educated individuals working under the supervision of attorneys:

Alaska
Arizona
California (Santa Barbara Bar)
Colorado Connecticut
Florida
Illinois
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
New Jersey
New Mexico
New Hampshire
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oregon
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia
West Virginia
Wisconsin

Bar associations address the definition of paralegals in many different ways. One example of the definitions used by bar associations is the following from the bylaws of the New Jersey State Bar Association which permits associate membership of non-lawyers. The following is the eligibility requirement for paralegals who wish to join the NJSBA:

A paralegal/legal assistant who is qualified through education, training, or work experience, is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the direction and supervision of a lawyer, of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent that paralegal or legal assistant, the lawyer would perform the task.

The following are examples of bar resolutions or guidelines adopted by the associations to assist attorneys in the utilization of paralegal services.

Bar Association Sections and Divisions

Michigan
The Bylaws of the State Bar of Michigan, Article 1, Sec. 6, defines "legal assistant" for the purposes of membership in the State Bar Legal Assistant Section, as follows:

Any person currently employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity engaged in the practice of law, in a capacity or function which involves the performance under the direction and supervision of an attorney of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts such that, absent that legal assistant, the attorney would perform the tasks and which is not primarily clerical or secretarial in nature, and;

(a) who has graduated from an ABA approved program of study for legal assistants and has a baccalaureate degree; or

(b) has received a baccalaureate degree in any field, plus not less than two years of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(c) who has received an associate degree in the legal assistant field, plus not less than two years of in-house training as a legal assistant; or

(d) who has a minimum of four years of in-house training as a legal assistant . . .

On April 23, 1993, the Michigan State Board of Commissioners announced approval of Michigan Guidelines for the Utilization of Legal Assistants. In recognition of the professional status of legal assistants, the guidelines cite Missouri v. Jenkins in allowing that a fee arrangement with a client may include a reasonable charge for work performed by legal assistants at market rates.

Nevada
As part of the creation of a Division of Legal Assistants, the State Bar of Nevada has adopted the following definition of a legal assistant: (12/94)

A legal assistant (also known as a paralegal) is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such an assistant, the attorney would perform the task.

This definition is identical to that adopted by the American Bar Association in 1986.

Texas
As early as 1981, the Board of Directors, State Bar of Texas, adopted General Guidelines for the Utilization of the Services of Legal Assistants by Attorneys. These guidelines require that a legal assistant work under the supervision of an attorney and shall not give legal advice or otherwise engage in the unauthorized practice of law. An attorney may allow a legal assistant under his or her supervision and direction to perform delegated services in the representation of that attorney's clients provided: 1) the client understands the legal assistant is not an attorney; 2) the attorney maintains a direct relationship with the client; 3) the attorney directs and supervises the legal assistant; and 4) the attorney remains professionally responsible for the client and the client's legal matters. The State Bar of Texas was the first state to establish a membership division for legal assistants within its bar association.

Bar Association Guidelines

Colorado
One of the first states to establish guidelines for paralegals in July 1986, the Colorado Bar has adopted the following definition of a paralegal:

Legal assistants (also known as paralegals) are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which will qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney.


Connecticut
From a December 11, 1985 Report of Connecticut Bar Association Special Inter-Committee Group to Study the Role of Paralegals, the committee sets forth recommendations as to what the professional obligations of lawyers should be in relation to paralegals. The report uses "paralegal" and "legal assistant" as having identical meanings and define the terms as follows:

persons employed by law offices who are not admitted to practice law but a major part of whose work is performing tasks commonly performed by lawyers and who are under the general supervision and control of lawyers. Paralegals may be salaried employees or independent contractors such as freelance paralegals utilized on occasion by lawyers for special assignments.

The Connecticut Bar Association offers associate membership to paralegals.

Georgia
Georgia Advisory Opinion No. 21, revised May 20, 1983, sets forth the following definition of legal assistant as follows:

For the purposes of this opinion, the terms 'legal assistant,' 'paraprofessional,' and 'paralegal' are defined as any lay person not admitted to the practice of law in this state who is an employee of or an assistant to, an active member of the State Bar of Georgia or of a partnership or professional corporation comprised of active members of the State Bar of Georgia and who renders services relating to the law to such member, partnership or professional corporation under the direct control, supervision and compensation of a member of the State Bar of Georgia.

Idaho
In State Bar Resolution 94-7, adopted November, 1994, the Idaho State Bar urged the Supreme Court to adopt the ABA Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistant Services, which includes the definition of a legal assistant/paralegal promulgated by the American Bar Association.

Maryland
In 2001, the Maryland State Bar Association began offering associate membership to legal assistants.  The definition and requirement states:

Paralegal/Legal Assistant.  A paralegal/legal assistant is a person qualified through education, training or work experience to perform work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person shall be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or be authorized by administrative, statutory, or court authority to perform this work.  A paralegal/legal assistant may apply for associate membership if sponsored by an active lawyer member of the Association.

New York
The New York State Bar Association Committee on Law Office Economics and Management Subcommittee on Legal Assistants published a pamphlet entitled "The Expanding Role of the Legal Assistant in New York State." This references guidelines for the utilization of legal assistants, published in 1976, and adopts the definition of a legal assistant as promulgated by the American Bar Association.

Oklahoma
During its meeting on August 20, 1999, the Oklahoma Bar Association Board of Governors adopted a resolution defining the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" to provide guidance to members of the bar. The board approved the following definition as a guide to Oklahoma attorneys, corporations or other entities to utilize the services of legal assistants/paralegals and bill their clients separately for such services:

A legal assistant or 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, and absent such assistant, the lawyer would perform the task.

Effective September 15, 2000, the Oklahoma Bar Association adopted minimum qualification standards to serve as a guide for Oklahoma attorneys.  The guidelines include the above quoted definition, prescribes standards for qualified legal assistants, and includes a recommendation for continuing legal education.  Click here to review the guidelines in their entirety.

Oregon
The Oregon State Bar Association has published a pamphlet entitled "The Lawyer and the Legal Assistant" (undated). This states the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are synonymous terms, and that legal assistants must work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney.

Utah 
As published in January 1994, the Office of Attorney Discipline of the Utah State Bar has set forth standards related to the ethical use of paralegals in the practice of law. The office has reviewed the National Association of Legal Assistants Guidelines for Utilizing Paralegals as well as the ABA Model guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistant Services and "in an attempt to provide a safe harbor for those lawyers utilizing paralegals until the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Discipline formally considers amending Rule 5.3 and 5.5(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, promulgates standards and guidelines." The guidelines require attorney supervision of legal assistants, and list general duties and responsibilities of a legal assistant.

West Virginia
During its annual meeting held July 16-17, 1999, The West Virginia State Bar Board of Governors approved the following definition:

A legal assistant is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity, in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistance, the attorney would perform the task.

The members of the The State Bar Legal Assistant Committee felt the adoption of the definition of a legal assistant/paralegal by The State Bar is important to the legal profession in providing uniformity in the identification of legal assistants.

Wisconsin
The following definition of a paralegal has been approved by the Wisconsin State Bar Paralegal Task Force, November 1996:

A 'paralegal' is an individual qualified through education and training, who is supervised by a lawyer licensed to practice law in this State, to perform substantive legal work requiring a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent the paralegal, the attorney would perform the work.

Summary
All definitions describe a professional group working under the direct supervision of an attorney, and acknowledge that the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" are used synonymously. They intentionally exclude persons who do not work under attorney supervision even though they may perform law related work. This direct supervision is required whether the legal assistant is utilized in the course of full time employment or is being utilized on a contractual basis by an attorney or firm. In both instances, the work product of the legal assistant becomes merged into the final product of the supervising attorney.

Bar association definitions may be found in guidelines and informational materials developed by the bar associations to assist their members in understanding more about the utilization of legal assistants and how this may assist their practice. In addition, bar associations that offer associate membership to legal assistants include a definition of "legal assistants" or "paralegals" within the membership requirements.