Practice Area Dictates Paralegal Duties

A paralegal’s duties and responsibilities will vary from law firm to law firm and from attorney to attorney.  Because attorneys view the role of a paralegal differently, they will utilize paralegals in different ways.  Some paralegals will be asked to perform more clerical work than others do while some paralegals will do nothing but perform substantive legal work for the attorney.  Most larger law firms will define paralegal job duties in their employment contract; however, smaller firms and sole practitioners will often ask their paralegals to do whatever is necessary to make the office function and to get the work done.

Practice Area Dictates Paralegal Duties

Practice Area Dictates Paralegal Duties

Paralegals who are employed by a general practitioner tend to have experience in a variety of areas.  When I was employed by a general practitioner, I learned how to prepare real estate closings, draft wills and trusts, prepare documents for probating an estate, write title insurance, draft documents to set up a corporation and draft pleadings to use in family court, common pleas court and criminal court. Now that I have been with a bankruptcy firm for several years, I am familiar with just about any form filed in a bankruptcy case.

Therefore, while paralegals may share similar duties from job to job such as preparing pleadings, answering correspondence and filing documents, the exact duties of a paralegal will depend on the type of law.  Below are some common paralegal jobs and the duties that you may expect to perform if you pursue one of these positions.

Bankruptcy Paralegal Duties

A bankruptcy paralegal can work for either a debtor firm or a creditor firm.  A paralegal working for a debtor firm works closely with the clients to prepare the bankruptcy forms for filing with the court.  She interviews clients to obtain information about assets, creditors, income & expenses and then uses this information to create bankruptcy forms (schedules).  Most bankruptcy paralegals use specialized software that generates the bankruptcy schedules from information they enter.  Once the bankruptcy schedules are complete, she will review them with the client for accuracy and make any corrections necessary.  After the attorney and client sign the forms, the paralegal will file them with the bankruptcy court.  Most bankruptcy districts require that documents be filed electronically rather than in hard copy.  Bankruptcy paralegals also respond to requests by bankruptcy trustees for copies of documents and information prior to and after the bankruptcy hearing.

Bankruptcy paralegals who work for a creditor firm perform many of the same duties as a paralegal who works for a debtor firm; however, the forms are generated on behalf of creditors.  The most common form filed by creditors in a bankruptcy case is the proof of claim form. This form is required to be filed before the creditor can receive payment if the trustee receives funds.  A creditor paralegal also files motions when debtors become delinquent on payments or if the creditor seeks permission to proceed with collections.

Family law paralegal duties

Paralegals in family law firms must be able to remain calm when dealing with emotional clients because family law covers emotional issues as divorce, custody battles, child welfare, paternity issues and adoptions.  After the attorney and paralegal have met with the client to go over the issues of the case, the paralegal will draft initial pleadings for the attorney to review.  During the course of the case, the paralegal will draft other pleadings such as answers, affidavits, discovery or responses to discovery. In order to draft these documents, the paralegal will be required to interview clients and witnesses.  She may also be required to subpoena documents to review.

Family law paralegals often act as a buffer between the client and the attorney gathering information while “holding the client’s hand” so that the attorney is not bogged down dealing with an emotional client on a daily basis.

Real estate paralegal duties

Real estate paralegals perform a variety of duties that include researching real estate records and preparing and filing closing documents.  Title abstractors are paralegals that search real estate records to determine the chain of property ownership. They also search for liens that attach to the property as well as any restrictions or title problems that would prevent the buyer from receiving clear title to the real estate.

Real estate closing paralegals work with all of the parties to a closing to gather the necessary documents required for closing.  To prepare for a real estate closing, the paralegal will draft a deed, prepare the mortgage loan documents and prepare title insurance documents for the attorney to review.  She coordinates with the buyer, seller, realtor, mortgage lender and any other parties that are required for closing.  Some paralegals also prepare the disbursement checks for the attorney to sign at closing.  After closing, the paralegal will file the required documents at the county recording office, ensure that checks cut from the closing proceeds are sent to the proper parties and draft a final title opinion for the attorney to sign once all documents are filed and returned from the recording office.

Litigation paralegal duties

Litigation paralegal is a very broad term used to describe a paralegal who works in any area of law that requires litigation.  Some specific areas would include medical malpractice, insurance litigation, corporate litigation, personal injury, collections, product liability, fraud, civil rights issues and employment issues.  Litigation paralegals share some common tasks that are related to most types of litigation.  They usually spend a great deal of time working closely with the client to gather information and documentation that is required to either prosecute or defend the lawsuit.  Litigation paralegals also work closely with witnesses to obtain more information and to prepare witness affidavits and testimony.

One of the most important duties of a litigation paralegal is to maintain the case file and keep documents organized and easy to locate.  Case documents can number in the thousands and it is the responsibility of the litigation paralegal to index each one and be able to locate it at a moment’s notice.  Litigation paralegals draft responses to interrogatories and request to produce for the attorney to review.  They also perform legal research and prepare case briefs for attorneys to review.

Differences in salaries

In addition to the differences in job duties, paralegal salaries also differ for the difference areas of practice.  Experience also plays a significant role in determining a paralegal’s salary.  Have a variety of job duties on her resume, a paralegal can apply for positions with a diverse group of law firms.

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About Tonya P.

Tonya has a BS in Political Science in addition to her paralegal degree. During her 23 years as a paralegal, she has worked in the areas of family law, real estate, probate law and bankruptcy law. For the past 15 years, she has worked solely for bankruptcy attorneys including her time working for a bankruptcy trustee.

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