A paralegal is an individual who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Paralegals perform tasks requiring knowledge of the law and legal procedures. The exact nature of their work and limitations that the law places on the tasks they are allowed to undertake vary between nations and jurisdictions. A paralegal is not a lawyer but is typically employed by a law office or internal legal department of a company. Paralegals generally are not allowed to offer legal services independently in most jurisdictions. Paralegals operate under a form of independent legal ethics and, with few exceptions, must also conduct their work under the formal supervision of an attorney. In some jurisdictions, paralegals can conduct their own business and are called law agents, providing services such as settlements, court filings, legal research and other auxiliary legal services; these tasks often have instructions from a solicitor attached.
In the United States, a paralegal is protected from some forms of professional liability under the theory that paralegals are working as an enhancement of an attorney, who takes ultimate responsibility for the supervision of the paralegal's work and work product. Paralegals often have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes. Paralegals may analyze and summarize depositions, prepare and answer interrogatories, draft procedural motions and other routine briefs, perform legal research and analysis, draft research memos, and perform case and project management. Paralegals often handle drafting much of the paperwork in probate cases, divorce actions, bankruptcies, and investigations. Consumers of legal services are typically billed for the time paralegals spend on their cases. In the United States, they are not authorized by the government or other agency to offer legal services (including legal advice) except in Washington State in the same way as lawyers, nor are they officers of the court, nor are they usually subject to government-sanctioned or court-sanctioned rules of conduct. In some jurisdictions (Ontario, Canada, for example) paralegals are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are and these licensed professionals may be permitted to provide legal services to the public and appear before certain lower courts and administrative tribunals.
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