Kristin Burbank, J.D.
What is a contract paralegal?
Unlike any other state, California is the only state that requires paralegals and legal assistants, which are synonymous (Business and Professions Code §6454), to meet certain educational requirements in order to be considered a paralegal.
A contract paralegal is a paralegal, as defined by Business and Professions Code §6450, “…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…”
To be considered a paralegal in the state of California, according to the Business and Professions Code, the paralegal must possess one of the following four educational requirements:
(1) a certification of completion from an ABA approved paralegal program;
(2) a certification of completion from a nationally accredited paralegal program or approved by California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) requiring 24 semester units in law related courses;
(3) a baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree in any subject, with a minimum of 1 year of law-related experience under the supervision of a California attorney*, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks; or
(4) a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, with a minimum of 3 years law-related experience under the supervision of a California attorney*, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks. Please note that this experience and training shall be completed no later than December 31, 2003. Bus. & Prof. Code §6450
Further, paralegals have continuing education requirements to meet in order to continue to hold themselves out as paralegals. Bus. & Prof. Code §6450.
What tasks can a contract paralegal perform?
Contract paralegals typically perform any substantive work that an attorney would perform, including legal research, interviewing clients, fact gathering and analysis of information, drafting and analyzing legal documents, including drafting Memorandum of Law, briefs, response pleadings, and everyday legal documents. Bus. & Prof. Code §6450.
It is important to note that a paralegal can not give legal advice or engage in any activity that might be considered practicing law and must work under the direction and supervision of an attorney when performing paralegal services. Bus. & Prof. Code §6450(b)(1)-(6).
Why would you want to become a contract paralegal or hire a contract paralegal?
As a contract paralegal you have the flexibility to set your own hours and decide what work you want to perform. This type of position is great for paralegals who want more of a part-time flexible schedule who have other outside interests, including, but not limited to family demands. This type of work is typically most beneficial to small law firms and solo attorneys who are in need of contract paralegals to work on complex cases that arise or for assistance during times where the attorney has a heavy volume of work.
Laws governing contract paralegals?
The same laws that govern paralegals employed by an attorney or law firm govern contract paralegals. Currently, there is no entity regulating paralegals in California. Paralegals are responsible for acting ethically and maintaining the appropriate educational and work experience requirements outlined in the Business and Professions Code §§6450-6456. Additionally, an attorney who uses the services of a paralegal is liable for any harm caused as the result of the para-legal’s negligence, misconduct, or violation of Business and Professions Code §6452.
Marketing yourself as a contract paralegal?
A contract paralegal’s target audience are attorneys. Mass mailings, including flyers and brochures are excellent tools to market yourself to attorneys in your geographic area. Before mar-keting yourself as a contract paralegal be sure that you meet the educational requirements because you could be subject to penalties and fines. Bus. & Prof. Code §6455.
*See Business and Professions Code §§6450-6456 for more information, including the attorney’s qualifications in order for the paralegal to meet this educational requirement.
About the author:
Kristin Burbank, J.D., is a member of the Executive Committee of BASF’s Paralegal Section and holds a B.A. from Syracuse University and a law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. She has worked as a paralegal in both Florida and New York before moving to California in 2014. She can be reached at Kristin.Burbank@gmail.com.