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Frequently Asked Questions about Paralegals Asked by Attorneys:


What is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is a person who performs substantive legal work, which requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer, and who is qualified through education, training and/or work experience to perform such work. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, corporation or other entity, or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. This person may also be known as a legal assistant under this definition.

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What is an OSBA Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal or Registered Paralegal?

An OSBA Certified Paralegal is a paralegal who has successfully completed the voluntary comprehensive test and certification process established in 2007 by the Ohio State Bar Association.

A Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal is a paralegal/legal assistant who has successfully completed the voluntary comprehensive two-day Certified Legal Assistant Examination (CLA) offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

A Registered Paralegal is a paralegal who has successfully completed the voluntary Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Those who have successfully completed a paralegal program are certificated not certified.

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Why should an attorney hire a paralegal?

  • Frees up attorney time to handle more complex cases and serve more clients.
  • Allows the attorney to accept a large volume of cases thereby increasing revenue.
  • Paralegals can perform quality legal services to the client at a lower cost to the client.
  • Allows the attorney to market his or her legal services as being progressive and efficient.
  • The paralegal is generally available to meet with the clients when the attorney is unavailable or when the attorney's presence is not necessary.
  • Allows more time for the attorney to meet mandatory continuing education requirements and to keep abreast of new or repealed laws and reported cases.
  • Allows the attorney to accept pro bono cases or represent clients or to represent clients in noteworthy cases.

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How will attorneys charge for the work paralegals perform?

Most attorneys bill paralegal time directly to the client on a hourly basis.

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If an attorney bills the paralegals services on a hourly basis, could this concept cut into a firms total billings?

A paralegal's contributions substantially increase the firm's bottom line when properly utilized and billed at a competitive rate for preparation of substantive legal work.

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Could attorneys use a law student or a young lawyer to do the work attorneys would delegate to a paralegal?

Yes. However, the firm risks the law student or young lawyer becoming dissatisfied. Using a law student or young lawyer to do work which can be delegated to a paralegal is a short-term approach. Paralegals have more education and training in procedural aspects than law students or young lawyers. In addition, the firm risks having its fees reduced by case law if the work is not delegated to a person with the lowest billing rate, and the law student and young associate will move on, leaving a gap in the case knowledge.

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Do clients object to being served by a paralegal?

No. In fact, in many instances, clients prefer working with a paralegal because the paralegal is usually available when needed and billed at a lower rate.

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What is the role of attorneys utilizing paralegals in the law practice?

Refer to the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Guidelines and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) Model Guidelines, which set forth the attorney's role in utilizing paralegals/legal assistants. 

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Where can attorneys find information on ways of utilizing paralegals?

Refer to the Cincinnati Paralegal Association (CPA) Guide to Paralegals in Greater Cincinnati by clicking here.

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How can a law firm develop a paralegal department?

  • The firm must structure, organize and systematize the law practice so that substantial portions can be delegated to paralegals with appropriate supervision and review.
  • There must be an understanding of benefits of utilizing paralegals, i.e, economy, efficiency and better work product.
  • Designate a group of lawyers committed to the concept of paralegal utilization.
  • Implement the paralegal program in a way that the paralegals are kept highly productive. paralegals billing rate should cover their salary, office space, secretarial help, use of office services, and a profit for the firm. Rates can be raised with experience.
  • Educate others who are not committed to utilization of paralegals.
  • Prepare job description for each practice area (serves as a list of tasks and responsibilities) a paralegal may perform. Obtain a copy of the CPA Guide to Paralegals in Cincinnati. A paralegal's responsibilities and skills should grow with experience.
  • Monitor and maintain the continuing education requirements for paralegals as specified under under the law.

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How can attorneys find a qualified paralegal?

Determine the area of practice and the needs of the attorney, and then decide: 

  • Will the position be full-time or part-time? 
  • Will the position be for a permanent employee or can the services of a freelance paralegal be utilized on a case-needed basis? 
  • Can the need be met by upgrading the skills of current employees through a paralegal certificate program? 
  • What skills, experience and education are required?
  • Do you need an entry level, experienced or specialized paralegal?

Develop a Profile of the Perfect Paralegal Candidate 

  • Is a strong, non-legal background in a related field required (i.e. real estate, medical, water rights, etc.)? What is the minimum level of education required and are specialty degrees required (i.e., engineering degree, accounting, English, etc.)?
  • Is a paralegal degree or certificate from a paralegal program necessary? Does the program need to be ABA approved or does the paralegal program attended meet core requirements as a paralegal program?
  • Is a bilingual paralegal required?
  • Is the knowledge of computer software programs essential and, if so, what programs does the paralegal need to be proficient in?
  • Are legal research skills needed?

Develop Interviewing Questions for the Paralegal Candidate

  • What are the paralegal's long-term goals? Enables the attorney to obtain information about the individual's professional commitment and career planning.
  • How does the paralegal handle stressful situations? Helps determine whether the individual can work under pressure to meet important deadlines.
  • Ascertain what the paralegal does to maintain his or her skills and what continuing education classes have been attended or will be considered. 
  • Determine whether the individual is willing to increase his or her skills and knowledge and acquire networking contacts.
  • Inquire about the paralegal's work habits. Permits speculation about whether the individual works independently and is self-motivated or needs constant supervision and hand-holding.
  • Ask whether the paralegal is creative and/or analytical. May help determine if the individual would be better suited for legal issues and substantive work or factual issues working with witnesses, documents and preparing exhibits.
  • Ask about the paralegal's previous employment including work experiences and interaction between other office staff and attorneys. Enables the attorney to evaluate the individual's personality and ability to work with others and how the paralegal handled positive and negative situations.

Search for Key Characteristics to Aid in Identifying a Successful Paralegal 

  • Professionalism (i.e., dress, poise, presentation, etc.)
  • Above-average intelligence
  • Ability to think logically
  • High level of writing ability
  • Ability and willingness to communicate
  • Able to assume responsibility
  • Ability to work independently with minimal guidance
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Understanding of the ethical and confidentiality requirements
  • Self confident with a positive attitude
  • Takes personal pride in upgrading skills and knowledge by continuing education

Sources for Locating a Paralegal

  • Local paralegal association job bank
  • Employment agencies specializing in legal staff
  • Advertisements in the classified section of a local newspaper
  • Advertise in local paralegal newsletter
  • "Word-of-mouth" through other paralegals and attorneys

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What is American Bar Association (ABA) Approval?

The ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals adopted certain criteria that must be met for a paralegal program to meet ABA approval. ABA approval is voluntary. If a school seeks ABA approval, two important standards must be met:   

  • The school offering a paralegal program must be a part of an accredited educational institution.
  • The school must offer at least 60 semester or 90 quarter units with general education. 
  • At least 18 semester units or 27 quarter units must satisfy legal specialty courses.

Many paralegal schools are in compliance with the ABA guidelines for approval but some schools chose not to seek the ABA approval because of the expense. 

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Where can I find an intern?

Many paralegal education programs include an internship as part of the curriculum. Contact the local paralegal associations or local college for your area or county about the internships available from local schools. The internship enables a student to utilize skills acquired in the program in combination with practical on-the-job experience. Private law firms, public defender or attorney general offices, banks, corporate legal departments, legal aide programs and governmental agencies offer internships. 

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What duties can be delegated to a paralegal?

The duties which can be delegated to a paralegal vary greatly and depend upon the areas of legal specialization a paralegal/legal assistant is performing. The tasks which may be performed by paralegals may 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.

The CPA Guide to Paralegals in Greater Cincinnati describes the various tasks a paralegal can perform for each field of law.

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How do I know what a paralegal can really do?

Review the applicant's resume for educational background, prior law-related experience, request references and work samples. In preparation for the interview, you may want to develop a list of questions designed to assess the applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities and the process used in preparing legal documents.

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What type of educational background should I look for in an applicant?

Paralegals typically have education falling into one of the following categories:

  • A bachelor degree in paralegal studies from a university. 
  • Most commonly, paralegals are educated at community colleges which offer an American Bar Association approved paralegal certificate or an Associate of Science Degree in law-related courses, or a certificate or Associate of Science Degree in law-related courses from a non-ABA approved postsecondary institution. 

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What things can a paralegal NOT DO?

  • Provide legal advice.
  • Represent a client in court.
  • Engage in conduct that constitutes the unlawful practice of law.
  • Contract with, or be employed by, a natural person other than an attorney to perform paralegal services.
  • Establish the fees to charge a client. 

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How should my paralegal sign letters on behalf of the firm?

A paralegal should sign his or her name with title underneath.

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Who regulates my paralegal?

No one.

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What are the mechanisms for regulation?

  • Certification
    Presently, the Ohio State Bar Association certifies paralegals. Paralegals who practice in Ohio, who possess a certain level of education and experience, and who pass a comprehensive exam offered annually by the OSBA can call themselves "OSBA Certified Paralegals." For more information please visit the OSBA website at www.ohiobar.org. Once a paralegal successfully completes a paralegal program in Ohio, that paralegal is certificated. The National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA) offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) which is a nationwide exam. Once this examination is passed, a paralegal can use the designation "RP." The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the Certified Legal Assistant / Certified Paralegal Program which is a nationwide program. Once this examination is passed, a paralegal can use the designations "CLA" or "CP." The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) which is also recognized nationwide. Once approved, a paralegal can use the designation "AACP."
  • Licensure
    A mandatory form of regulation. A process by which an agency of a state government grants permission to persons meeting predetermined qualifications to engage in a given occupation and/or use a particular title or grants permission to institutions to perform specific functions. The primary purpose of licensing is to demonstrate proficiency for entry into a profession with minimal competency defined by the legislature. Licensing is a mechanism for public consumer protection.
  • Registration
    A less rigid form of regulation and involves the filing of specific identified information with a governmental body for purposes of monitoring, control and recourse. Registration may be either voluntary or mandatory. The purpose of registration is to provide identification of members in a given profession. Certain qualifications are minimal and are often defined within the registration process. Registration lends itself to identification of members of a profession and less to the efficiency or professional achievement. 

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More Information

The links below direct you to several articles written about the paralegal profession, the utilization of paralegals, and other matters relating to paralegals.

What is a paralegal? and What are some of the benefits to an attorney's using a paralegal?

Paralegal Responsibilities

Guide to Paralegals in Greater Cincinnati - published by the Cincinnati Paralegal Association

"Paralegals: Enhancing Practice, Professionalism and Profitability," - video. Available for purchase through the Cincinnati Paralegal Association. The video is a means to educate law school students. New and practicing lawyers will find the information useful since it describes the benefits they can realize by including paralegals on the legal services team. Excellent video for paralegals since it not only delineates the paralegal role but also address ethical and unauthorized practice of law concerns. Please contact our Professional Development Chair for more information.

Attorney-Client and Attorney Work Product Privileges: Their Application to Paralegals

Paralegals and Conflicts of Interest

Recovery of Paralegal Fees

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact the CPA. We are always available to answer questions about our profession and are also available to speak to small groups of attorneys about paralegals and the utilization of paralegals.

For more information, please e-mail our Professional Development Committee at or call us at (513) 244-1266.