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Paralegals - views from the coalface, part 2

The view from: Recent graduate, just started working with a top-tier commercial firm.  

Time constraints: paralegal or vacation clerk? 

"A paralegal’s role is diverse and adaptable to the environment in which they are placed. Put simply, a paralegal provides support for qualified lawyers by applying legal experience or training under the supervision of qualified lawyers. A paralegal can be asked to work full-time or part-time depending upon the circumstances of the employer and employee. Typically, however, paralegal roles are filled either by career paralegals who work full-time (or close to full-time) or law students working 1-2 days per week to obtain legal experience while they complete their studies.

Like all professionals, paralegals operate subject to strict time constraints and are expected to provide the highest possible quality of service within the budgetary constraints of their employer and/or client. A paralegal may either provide general support for office functions or they will work on specific client matters, in which case they will likely be billed out to clients on an hourly basis. In either situation, paralegals are required to quickly develop an appreciation of the value of their time and to learn to manage competing priorities.

Fundamentally, the difference between the role of a paralegal and a vacation clerk is one of purpose. While the two may perform similar roles, both being legally-trained staff entitled to provide ancillary support but not legal advice, a paralegal will typically be employed for a longer period than a vacation clerk and will therefore be expected to become more efficient over time and ultimately contribute value to the firm. In contrast, vacation clerks have less expectation to contribute value, and are rather expected to spend their time learning about the firm and demonstrating their suitability within the firm, in the expectation that many of the vacation clerks will later join the firm as qualified lawyers and contribute value further down the line."

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