I fell into the legal industry when I was 20. A medical condition disqualified me from continuing on my nuclear submarine training and the nearby Judge Advocate General’s Corp was needing some support staff. Having spent my teenage years skirting the rules based on technicalities, my gift for arguing had found a home.
My Path to Paralegal
Over the next several years, I went on to get an Associate Degree in Legal Assisting, graduating with high honors. I did Pro Bono clinics at the Nashville Legal Aid Society so often that the Middle Tennessee Paralegal Association gave me a Volunteer of the Year award, later making me the Chair of Community Services. I rose to doing Legal Data Analysis, becoming a company’s first Legal Business Analyst – a position where attorneys answered to me.
I even went on to be the first ever Contract Administrator of the Nashville Convention Center Authority, beating licensed attorneys to get the job. By this point, my references included a Harvard lawyer, Vanderbilt School of Law professor, and a manager from a previous non-legal job…just for some flair.
I frequently post about my rise in law. So, why don’t I post about legal matters?
Let’s start with the on-the-books reason…
Unauthorized Practice of Law
Liability. Nothing motivates policies and procedures quite like liability. Law is an industry that makes its bones by doing a lot of covering of asses. People often hire lawyers to reduce personal accountability. “The lawyer told me to do it.”
Attorneys, being licensed professionals whose opinions are taken into consideration to make major life-affecting decisions, hold the weight for being in their position of influence. If a client’s decision destroys a business, and that decision can be linked to the attorney, the attorney can be held liable.
Paralegals are in an awkward in-between. Because paralegals are known to possess legal knowledge, it’s assumed that we can answer whatever question just the same as the lawyer. Especially, if they know the answer. Easy, right?
Answering your question constitutes giving legal advice. Why? Because our answer will have an impact on the related decisions you make. What we say can make you more likely to choose a particular action.
This awkward position is referred to as “having undue influence.” Because paralegals have legal knowledge, a general person is more likely to take what the paralegal says into consideration of a decision than they would someone with no legal knowledge.
However, as we are not licensed to practice law, the liability becomes muddled. The layperson can give you suggestions because you will be more inclined to discount their advice over ours.
This is a precaution to protect clients.
Believe it, or not, this is to protect the average person from what a paralegal may not know because it is delved into more deeply in law school. There are many tiny details that have a bigger impact on your situation than most realize.
There is also a hush-hush reasoning…
There was once a time that you didn’t need to get a BS degree or even attend law school to become an attorney (unlike now, when you must do BOTH). As with most professions, it was something that was learned on the job via apprenticeship – like all other trades, including medicine and metalworking. All you really had to do was pass the BAR exam.
Then, schools started popping up to help people with the exam – law schools. Then, colleges started doing pre-law degrees. Before you know it, the hoops to become an attorney are entirely academic. Now, you virtually need an attorney’s income just to get the schooling necessary to take the test to determine if you can practice law.
Over the course of 20 years as a paralegal, I can’t count the number of times I’ve corrected attorneys simply because my subject-matter knowledge trumped theirs. This is not uncommon.
There are so many times people are forced to hire attorneys for nonsense reasons. A young couple seeking a divorce from their rushed-into marriage when they were 18, who have no kids and no property, don’t need to be spending thousands of dollars on attorneys just to get a judge to go “You are no longer married.” That’s ridiculous.
But, lawyers don’t want people knowing what they can do for themselves. It’s hard to charge several hundreds of dollars per hour to say “All of the stuff I’m filling into this form for you is the same information you filled out on my form. You could have saved $500 by doing this part yourself.” It would cost a firm $500 to say that!
I can gladly help coach anyone who is interested in a career in law. I can’t help someone with matters of law. Because of this, I tend to avoid discussions of law directly on my website. I don’t want to publish anything that may be considered “advice” to other people and influence them in a decision.
But, it’s just a quick question…
No, it isn’t. It might seem like one, because the question probably is some form of “Can someone do abc if xyz?”. It seems pretty cut and dry. Do you know what the answer to that question is, roughly, 95% of the time? “It depends.”
There are 20 letters between c and x. Some matter, others don’t. What you think is most important may very well be an obscure detail; meanwhile, something you feel is completely irrelevant is actually the key issue at play.
If you are in need of some legal advice, be sure to search your local bar association for attorneys in your area. Ask the lawyer, not the paralegal, and don’t hold it against a paralegal for not answering questions that you do ask.
I hope this helps explain why, though law is my bread and butter, I don’t post legal opinions on my page.
If you are an attorney and seeking an outside source for document production, my legal experience can be found on my CV.
If you find value in what I share, please consider buying me a ko-fi to help supplement my writing habit.
Many thanks, and Best Blessings,