When Seeking Legal Document Preparation Help –
What’s the Difference Between a
Legal Document Assistant, a Paralegal and a Legal Assistant?
Author: Pauline D. Williams
While assisting clients in various legal matters, one question that is repeatedly asked, "What's the difference between a Legal Document Assistant (LDAs), a Paralegal and a Legal Assistant?" To the average person, there seem to be no distinction — believing they all work for or under the direction of attorney(s). Not true! Especially, since I have to juggle these titles periodically based upon the legal task to be undertaken and who I deemed the “client.” When seeking out the services of these paraprofessionals, such titles are interchangeable and somewhat confusing. Similar to a LSAT “logical reasoning” question wherein, all LDAs are not Paralegals, most Paralegals are LDAs but some LDAs and Paralegals are likely Legal Assistants. Perplexing huh?
To best answer this question, each state has a Business and Professions Code, which outlines the statutory, educational and registration requirements for professionals and paraprofessionals. Conducting a simple search like: “state - business and professions code”, will locate several sites on the internet.
I. Legal Document Assistant
In California Business & Professions Code (the “Code”), “Section 6400(c): Legal Document Assistant means: (1) Any person who… provides, or assists in providing, or offers to provide, or offers to assist in providing, for compensation, any self-help service to a member of the public who is representing himself or herself in a legal matter, or who holds himself or herself out as someone who offers that service or has that authority. This paragraph does not apply to any individual whose assistance consists merely of secretarial or receptionist services.” emphasis added
Under Section 6400(c)(2) of the Code, a Legal Document Assistant can also be a “corporation, partnership, association, or other entity that employs or contracts with any person … who, as part of his or her responsibilities, provides, or assists in providing, or offers to provide, or offers to assist in providing, for compensation, any self-help service to a member of the public who is representing himself or herself in a legal matter or holds himself or herself out as someone who offers that service or has that authority.” This paragraph does not apply to any individual whose assistance consists merely of secretarial or receptionist services.” emphasis added
California Code Section 6450(a) states "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 federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her.” emphasis added
III. Legal Assistant
Having worked as a Paralegal since 1987, to be officially accepted amongst your peers, hired by top tier firms and make the top $$$$$, a Paralegal had to have (i) a Paralegal Certificate and (ii) a Bachelors degree. Sorry to say but, we considered Legal Assistants as “occasional billable Secretaries” or “want-a-be paralegals.” Why? Because they typed legal documents prepared by attorneys or Paralegals, didn’t understand the law, conducted legal research or were involved in deals. Moreover, if you looked deeper into their employment file, their title probably would be “Legal Secretary.”
So not to appear bashing Legal Assistants, I’ve worked with several who had a Bachelor degree, received “on the job” training and did more than secretarial work for attorneys or Paralegals. However, if you polled most Paralegals today, I don’t think their opinions have changed much — as the higher debate brewing in our community is whether “independent paralegals” want to be known as “Legal Document Assistants.”
“Paralegals”, have a “Paralegal Certificate” from an
accredited school or a university and a Bachelors or JD degree. Most have extensive experience working in law firms, public/private companies or governmental sectors in a particular specialty area: Corporate Law, Family Law, Intellectual Property Law, Litigation Law, Probate, Law, etc. Paralegals can also work directly, remotely or virtually with attorneys as consultants. However, a Paralegal must be registered and bonded in order to perform legal document preparation work for the public as a Legal Document Assistant. ABA
“Legal Document Assistants (LDA)” have met the “basic requirement” to be an LDA, applied for registration, filed a bond with the County Recorder Office and assigned a LDA Number that expires two (2) years from registration. LDAs can be a person or entity that performs legal document preparation work for the public. Most LDAs are Paralegals with extensive legal experience and are now business owners. However, “basic requirement” means the person has met the minimum level of experience and/or education.
“Legal Assistants” is a modern term for Legal Secretary. They are not Paralegals or LDAs and should not prepare legal document preparation work for the public. They generally greet you, answer telephones and perform secretarial duties.
In conclusion, when seeking legal document preparation services, make sure the person or entity: (i) is registered and bonded, (ii) can provide you with the credentials of their staff, (iii) quote you “actual flat” rates, and (iv) do not lure you in with “hidden per document” costs. Overall, ask questions until you feel 100% comfortable with the person(s) assisting you with your legal matter.
If it doesn’t feel right or the cost looks too good to be true,
it’s probably time to move on.
Cherry Way Document Preparation Services’ Paralegals and Legal Document Assistants have 23+ years of legal experience and can assist you with your legal matters. We offer free consultations, competitive affordable “flat” rates, and guarantee our work. Have questions or to set up an appointment, please contact us at (510) 287-6777 or (877) 589-7565. Visit our website at www.cherrywaydocprep.com.