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A day in the life of a paralegal

Paralegals, sometimes called legal assistants, are integral members of the legal profession in South Africa. In essence, paralegals are legal support personnel who assist attorneys and other legal professionals in their daily work; what this assistance entails depends entirely on the legal field and the qualifications of the paralegal.

There are only two things that paralegals may not do: they cannot represent clients in court, and they may not give direct legal advice. Other than that, the paralegal's daily job consists of a wide range of administrative, research and client-focused tasks.

Administrative duties

The administrative duties a paralegal performs depend on their skills and the size of the company. A paralegal can be anything from a secretary with legal typing skills to a trained legal worker with some office management ability. Paralegals are usually responsible for managing and filing the legal documents of the company they work for, and for drafting legal documents and reports of all kinds. In small legal firms, a paralegal often doubles up as an office manager - taking calls, tracking payments, keeping the books and providing human resources or IT support.

Research responsibilities

Paralegals are often responsible for the bulk of the daily legal research that the firm needs to conduct, and many paralegals are essentially legal academics. Researching involves going to libraries or consulting online resources to find applicable legislation, cases, precedents and legal opinions on the cases the firm has undertaken. The paralegal then analyses the available information and writes a summary, report or recommendation based on the facts. More highly qualified paralegals even assist attorneys with preparing cases for trial, gathering facts and analysing the legal position.

Client work

Even though a paralegal cannot give legal advice directly to clients, he or she still interacts regularly with them. Depending on the nature of the company the paralegal works for, this can involve taking testimonies, interviewing witnesses, helping to interpret and explain legal documents, and preparing clients for meeting with the attorney. They can also help clients get legal aid and can explain things like court procedures, legal jargon and the rights and duties that the client has.
Paralegals play a vital role in making legal services accessible and affordable to the citizens of the country. By performing essential legal support tasks, they free up attorneys and other legal professionals to dispense their expertise more widely.

The part-time University of Cape Town (Law@Work) Paralegal Practitioner short course is presented online throughout South Africa. Contact Anique on +27 (0) 21 447 7565 or visit for more information about the course.

About Anna Malczyk

Anna Malczyk is the content manager of the University of Cape Town (Law@Work)

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