Paralegals offer a number of benefits to the law firm in which they work and to the clients who they serve. But their efforts are often more far-reaching than just their law firm or even their own community.
Here are some examples of how paralegals can have a positive impact on society and the world at large:
#1 Pro bono work
The demand for paralegals to perform pro bono work is on the rise. According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NAFPA) Codes of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, paralegals should aim for 24 hours of community service work each year.
A number of organizations rely on the pro bono work of attorneys and paralegals, including those focusing on the needs of children, families, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants, and the military. Nonprofits often hire paralegals to do work on behalf of low-income or otherwise disadvantaged clients.
In 2011, NFPA recognized the work of paralegals involved in “Innocence Projects” throughout the U.S., a program that provides legal representation to people wrongfully convicted of crimes.
#2 Within their firm
Paralegals make legal services more affordable for individuals by handling more work that allows mitigated attorney fees. Focused on communicating effectively with clients, they offer a more human approach for their firm and serve as a willing listener who is always available to talk (even if an attorney isn’t).
An experienced legal support professional’s knowledge of law and ability to support the firm is being recognized even more widely. Utah will begin to license paralegal practitioners beginning in 2019, who can practice law in certain areas without the supervision of an attorney. In Washington, limited license legal technicians are nonlawyers allowed to provide legal advice and assistance in certain areas of law, also without the supervision of an attorney.
It’s another move that makes legal advice and care more accessible to more people.
#3 Community advocacy
Paralegals can also play an important role in advancing initiatives within their own communities by supporting advocacy projects. Community paralegals promote empowerment by fostering legal awareness among clients and provide solutions, not only for individuals, but also for entire communities. Their legal expertise gives them insight on what is possible and what assistance would have the greatest impact.
For example, the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) in San Francisco delivers free legal services to low-income residents of San Francisco, as well as the non-profits that serve them. JDC’s pro bono legal services, homeless advocacy project, immigration program, and diversity education platforms serve about 9,500 disadvantaged San Franciscans annually, with a staff of 45 and over 2,000 volunteers (among them paralegals) who contribute upwards of 45,000 hours of community service each year.
Paralegals can also volunteer their time during national disasters by supporting organizations like the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, which links people living in communities facing unexpected circumstances to legal organizations that can help them get their lives back on track.
#4 Influencing the paralegal industry
Paralegals can also change rules or access to opportunities for fellow paralegals, even having a direct influence on changes occurring in their profession. Paralegal Vicki Voisin’s podcast, “The Paralegal Voice,” helps paralegals stay up to date on a variety of trends and topics including networking, hiring trends, and new regulations affecting the paralegal profession.
By interviewing guests ranging from legal scholars to paralegals working in the trenches in obscure niche roles, Voisin has helped to professionalize and create interest in the paralegal profession. Although she no longer hosts the podcast, Voisin continues to influence the paralegal industry as an author, speaker, and a mentor to other paralegals at all levels of experience.
#5 Global change agents
Often thought of as behind the scenes workers who assist others in the practice of law, paralegals have actually caused wide-reaching changes in the world by providing marginalized groups with access to vital legal resources and advocating for those with little or no voice of their own.
U.S. organizations such as the Open Society Justice Initiative enable U.S.-based paralegals to work with community-based paralegals in other countries. Together, they support human rights initiatives and do work related to causes in which they seek to make a long-lasting impression. This includes economic justice, international justice, anti-corruption, as well as the right to know, assemble, and speak.
Do you know of other ways that paralegals are changing the world? Tell us about them in the comments!