Attorneys and Paralegals: What, Why, Who, and How

Almost time to return to Oxford, teaching, and regular blog posts. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace and quiet of a small cottage on a small lake in Maine, having sent The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Clientoff to the publisher. (Expected publication date is September 28, 2010.)

In the meantime, I do get some short opportunities (such as half-time in the World Cup games) to scan the internet. Recently I was particularly drawn to a question posted on the Paralegal Today listserv: “Should I become a paralegal or an attorney?” Actually it was a response rather than the question itself that interested me as it provided a good statement of the different roles played by paralegals and lawyers as members of the legal team, a topic of frequent discussion on this blog. Paralegals are not just lawyers who did not go to law school and lawyers are not just paralegals who did go to law school. Each fills a unique role on the legal team. Most lawyers cannot do well what paralegals do well. The reverse is also true. With permission of the author of that response, I am providing it here in full:

Tamika: I think it depends on what you want to do in your career and where
your strengths lie.

From my observations, attorneys spend more time with the “why” and the
“what” while paralegals spend more time with the “who” and the “how.” For
example: I work in transaction law (estate planning, business planning,
etc.). A client meets with my attorney and they discuss “what” the client
wants or needs, and “why” they want/need it that way. Big picture stuff.

After the meeting, I’m involved in more of the detailed daily contact with
the client, their family members, the other parties, other counsel, other
members of our staff — the “whos.” And I’m involved in the “how” — how
does this need to transaction need to close, how do I get the clients
wants/needs in writing, how do I best help communicate the goals and end
results to the clients, how do I keep my attorney in the loop, how do I need
to communicate with others in the office to get the job done properly for
the client, how do I best organize the documents for the meeting? Almost
all the details fall within that.

Sometimes, I really wish I’d gone to law school. Sometimes . . .not. Like
several others have said here: I don’t want the headaches of a law
practice. I’m glad I can go on vacation and not have my cell phone ring.
Plus, my strengths lie in handling the details. I can see the big picture,
I can even help paint the big picture; but I truly enjoy the communication &
organization aspects of my job.

So, take some time to think. What do YOU want out of your career? What are
you best at? When you picture yourself working, what does that picture look
like? If you still can’t see it: ask to shadow someone from each
profession. I’d suggest shadowing them for several days; because no two
days are ever the same. Plus, go sit in court and watch what happens. See
what appeals to you. That will give you your answer, I think, quicker than
us telling you whether we like our careers. 🙂

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you! And congratulations on finishing
your BA!

Tina Brower Medlock, ACP
Certified Paralegal
Advanced Certification — Probate and Estate Planning
Hyden, Miron & Foster, PLLC

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