About the Paralegal Profession

Pursuant to California Business & Professions Code § 6450(a), “Paralegal” means a person who holds himself or herself out to be a paralegal, who is qualified by education, training, or work experience, who either contracts with or is employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her…” The ABA definition reads as follows:  “A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

As defined by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE):  “Paralegals perform substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which work, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney. Paralegals have knowledge of the law gained through education, or education and work experience, which qualifies them to perform legal work. Paralegals adhere to recognized ethical standards and rules of professional responsibility.”

As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), a “…Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.”

Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(c), a paralegal shall possess at least one of the following:

(1) A certificate of completion of a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.

(2) A certificate of completion of a paralegal program at, or a degree from, a  postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of a minimum of 24 semester, or equivalent, units in law-related courses and that has been accredited by a national or regional accrediting organization or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.

(3) A baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree in any subject, a minimum of one year of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.

(4) A high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, a minimum of three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.

All paralegals shall be required to certify completion every two years of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics. All continuing legal education courses shall meet the requirements of Section 6070. Every two years, all paralegals shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing education in either general law or in a specialized area of law. Certification of these continuing education requirements shall be made with the paralegal’s supervising attorney. The paralegal shall be responsible for keeping a record of the paralegal’s certifications.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q: What are the primary duties of a paralegal?
A: Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(a), tasks performed by a paralegal include, but are not limited to:

1) Case planning, development, and management;
2) Legal research
3) Interviewing clients
4) Fact gathering and retrieving formation
5) Drafting and analyzing legal documents;
6) Collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney; and
7) Representing clients before a state or federal administrative agency if that representation is permitted by statute, court rule, or administrative rule or regulation.

Under Business & Professions Code § 6450(b), a paralegal shall not do the following:

1) Provide legal advice.
2) Represent a client in court.
3) Select, explain, draft, or recommend the use of any legal document to or for any person other than the attorney who directs and supervises the paralegal.
4) Act as a runner or capper, as defined in Sections 6151 and6152.
5) Engage in conduct that constitutes the unlawful practice of law.
6) Contract with, or be employed by, a natural person other than an attorney to perform paralegal services.
7) In connection with providing paralegal services, induce a person to make an investment, purchase a financial product or service, or enter a transaction from which income or profit, or both, purportedly may be derived.
8) Establish the fees to charge a client for the services the paralegal performs, which shall be established by the attorney who supervises the paralegal’s work. This paragraph does not apply to fees charged by a paralegal in a contract to provide paralegal services to an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity as provided in subdivision (a).

Q: What is MCLE and what is a paralegal’s responsibility for continued education?

A: MCLE stands for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education
Under Business & Professions Code § 6450(d), California paralegals must meet the following continuing education requirements:

·     Four hours of general or specialized legal education every two years; and
·     Four hours of legal ethics every two years.

For a form to track your compliance with CLE requirements, click here.

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