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What is the difference between a lawyer and a paralegal?

People often get the two confused regarding these two titles and based on this confusion, chose to hire a paralegal for an assumed lower price than hire an attorney for their Ca Family Law case. I am writing this article to clarify these positions and share a word of caution for those who are contemplating hiring a paralegal. Paralegals (document preparers), are required to complete a course in paralegal studies. The typical length of the course is about 1 year. There is no requirement of a college degree nor is there a standardized exam that tests the paralegal's competence. As of the writing of this article, there is not a licensing agency that regulates or monitors the paralegal's work or continued competency.
The purpose of the paralegal is two fold. First, the paralegal course of studies prepares the paralegal to work under the supervision of an attorney. In addition, the paralegal is trained to work as a document preparer that works with the public and completes forms based on the person's instructions (no legal advise).
An attorney, on the other hand, is required to have a college education followed by 3 years of law school in a state accredited program. After school, the attorney is required to take and pass a comprehensive California State Bar exam administered by the State Bar of California. Once the exam is passed and the attorney obtains their license, there are mandatory continuing legal education programs that the attorney is required to complete on an annual basis. In addition, most attorneys carry malpractice insurance in the event that your case is not handled appropriately. Finally, in the event that the attorney mis-handles the case, the client has a remedy by contacting the State Bar.

Please be weary of paralegals claiming to have "attorneys available" upon request. It is likely that either: a) there is no attorney, b) the attorney may be new or c) the attorney may have a discipline report. On another cautionary note, some paralegals may offer legal advise (which is illegal) that may be inaccurate and result in the client agreeing to something that they are not otherwise obligated to do. Finally, you may end up paying more for a paralegal than you would for an attorney on various limited scope issues.

Please call me, experienced Covina Family Law attorney, Paul A. Eads if you have any additional questions about paralegals or if you are considering using the services of a paralegal.

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