Published by the Law Practice Management Section of the State Bar of Michigan after
being presented at the Oakland County Bar Association New Lawyers Basic Skills Seminar
Series in 2010
Paralegals increase the profitabilityand efficiencyofthe lawpractice.Whatused
to be considered afledglingprofession has evolved intoa world ofits own.This
article summarizes the informationpresented at the OaklandCountyBar Association
NewLawyers Basic Skills Seminar Series.
Like attorneyand lawyer thetitles paralegal and legal assistantareusedinterchangeably.The difference,however, isthatbothattorneyandlawyer clearlydenote the sameprofession.Lately, the title legal assistanthas beenused bybothparalegals and
legal secretaries, creatingsome confusion.
The National Association of LegalAssistants(NALA) andthe National Federation of
Paralegal Associations (NFPA) two national groupsrepresentingparalegals, adoptedthedesignations legalassistantandparalegalearlyintheprofession’shistory.Asstatechapterswereinitiated theyassumedthe respective titles. Historicallythe titles referred to the sametype of employee.
Inrecent years, the AmericanBar Association took the lead in changingtheirdesignation
from legal assistanttoparalegal, as didthe International Paralegal ManagementAssociation,and NALA.Localassociations,firms, and companiesfollowed suit, includingtheState Bar of Michigan, theOaklandCountyBar Association, and the Detroit Metropolitan
Bar Association. While there isno rule aboutusingeither title,paralegal is becomingthepreferredtitle,especially in light ofthe confusionthatexists with the broader
use of the titlelegal assistant.
Lawyers hire paralegals for a varietyofreasons. Onemotivatingfactor is theopportunitytooffer theirclients legal services ata reduced rate.Some clientsaremorewillingto hire afirm because of this option.A secondobjective is to maximize the time
the lawyer spends on lawyering,work that justifiesahigherfee.The bottomlineis thatawell-trained paralegal willadd significant valuetothepractice while
The paralegal professionis not regulatedbyanystateorfederal institution.There
have been pocketsof pro regulation groupsthathave advocated licensure but theirsuccesshasbeen limited to afewstateswho nowoffer voluntarystatecertification.
NALA and NFPA offer voluntarycertification through examination. NALA offers the
Certified Legal Assistant orParalegal (CLA or CPorCLASfor specialists) and NFPA
offers the Registered Paralegal (RP). The tests are intense and continuingeducation
creditsare required tomaintain the certification.Whilemostemployers do not seek
outparalegals basedonthis achievement, itrepresentsa personaland professional
accomplishment that goesbeyondthe basic requirements of paralegal education.
Attorneys in Michigan relyon theStateBar ofMichigan definition andguidelines
when employingparalegals, which in large part was adoptedfromtheAmerican Bar
Association.They define aparalegal as:
“anyperson currentlyemployedor retainedbyalawyer, lawoffice, governmental
agency, or other entityengaged in thepractice oflaw, in a capacityorfunction
which involves the performance under the direction and supervision of anattorneyofspecificallydelegated substantive legal work, which work, for themost part,
requires asufficient knowledge of legal concepts such that, absent that legal assistant,theattorneywouldperformthe task andwhich is notprimarilyclerical or secretarial
Amongother things, the guidelines state that:
Paralegals mustfollow the Michigan Rules ofProfessional Conduct.
A lawyer can ethicallyassign responsibilities toaparalegal (where the attorneyreviews theparalegal’swork),provided
The level of educationmustbeappropriatefor a paralegal
There is adifferencebetween paralegal andclerical work
Theremustbea reliable methodfor recordingparalegal work
Paralegal services should be pricedatmarketrate
More recently,RichlinSecurity Service Company v. Chertoff,128S.Ct. 2007 (2008),statedthat paralegalfees arecompensableunder the Equal Accessto JusticeAct
(EAJA)at prevailing marketrates.
Therecoverabilityofparalegalfeesis also setforthin Michigan Court Rule 2.626,
which states that
“an award of attorneyfeesmayincludeanawardfor thetimeand labor of anylegal
assistant who contributednon-clerical, legal support under the supervision of an
attorney, provided thelegal assistantmeets the criteria setforth inArticle 1,§ 6ofthe Bylaws of theStateBar ofMichigan.”
Paralegal billingratesare widelyinfluenced bythe level ofwork andthe level
of experienceof theemployee.Fees rangingfrom $75.00-$140.00 per hour arenotuncommon,and thoserates fluctuateaccordingtoclient andfirm. Most importantly,
and in keepingwithMissouriv. Jenkins, time keepingrecords shouldbe specificand clear as to the work done byaparalegal. A time entry, “preparedinterrogatories”couldeasilybeinterpretedasaclericaltask,but “reviewed complaintandinterviewnotes;draftedinterrogatories”morespecificallydescribesasubstantive task.
The AmericanAssociationfor Paralegal Education (AAfPE)a group ofprimarilyparalegal
program directors andinstructors, statesthat:
“in order tobeasuccessful paralegal, anindividual shouldpossessnotonlyacommon
core of legal knowledge, but also musthaveacquired vitalcritical thinking, organization,
research,writing, oralcommunications, and interpersonal skills”
Paralegals that attendan American BarAssociationapprovedprogram arerequired
to take courses thatsatisfythe AAfPE requirements. Mostprograms offer a certificateof completion,anassociate’sdegree,orabachelor’sdegree.Alldesignationsareacceptablein
themarket, however, there has been arecent push toward requiringabachelordegree.
Firm and corporations set theirown policyfor employment qualifications.
Paralegal graduates are acolorfulflockin thattheybringavarietyof different
combinations of schoolingand experience to the profession.Some paralegal graduatesarefresh out of theirfirst degree andhave littleor noindustryexperience. Others
areenteringasecondcareerandbring theadded valueofknowledge and experience
infields suchasengineering, teaching,or nursing.
Implementingaparalegal in the lawpracticeshouldbeas natural as hiringa newattorney. Followingthe StateBar ofMichigan guidelines andthe recommendations
setforth inMissouriv. Jenkinswill lead to greater profitability, andwillprovideclients with more efficient and affordable services.
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Law Practice Management: Effective Use of Paralegals