By Ursula Furi-Perry (Chicago, IL: ABA Book Publishing, 2010). 480 pp. $199.95. Order, www.ababooks.org
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Paralegals, also called legal assistants, provide valuable services to attorneys and clients. Attorneys delegate tasks, some routine and some complex, to paralegals so the attorneys can focus on complex and substantive work. This saves the attorney time and the client money. The range and scope of a paralegal’s duties mirror attorneys’ complex and varied practices. Having a good paralegal is like having another attorney assisting, without the cost and ego problems that can arise when attorneys work together. Ultimately, however, the lawyer is responsible for closely supervising paralegals’ work and ensuring they do not cross the ethical and professional lines of practicing law without a license.
This handbook, by a Massachusetts attorney who teaches paralegal courses, is a welcome reference guide for paralegals and attorneys. Less a traditional book and more a compilation of the author’s best articles, and examples of national models of best practices, the book is a bedrock guide on the scope of what paralegals are, what they do, and most important, what they cannot do: set legal fees, give legal advice, and present cases in court.
One of this book’s best features is its detailed explanation of the legal and ethical constraints on paralegal work. The book comprehensively explains working with attorneys in terms of legal ethics, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest. Part I, A Day in the Life of a Legal Assistant, should be mandatory reading for attorneys and paralegals. It defines the scope and nature of what paralegals are allowed to do. It focuses on a key problem, clients seeking legal advice concerning seemingly simple substantive or procedural issues.
This book does a good job explaining legal terms and providing an overview of court systems, civil and criminal procedure rules, evidence, pleadings, motions, and trial preparation. It has checklists for collecting intake information from clients in bankruptcy, business law, employment, estate planning, family law, real estate, and intellectual property cases. All the sample forms and letters in the book are also included in PDF versions in a CD-ROM. Sprinkled throughout the book are shaded boxes, which give examples of typical employers, paralegal duties and how to fulfill them, and the skills and education necessary to perform in specific legal environments.
The book’s strengths are its comprehensive explanation of what paralegals are and do and the legal and ethical constraints they face and an overview of what paralegals will encounter in a law-related workplace. Its weakness is an over-reliance on previously published articles and other resources without an in-depth explanation of how these rules and concepts apply in the real world. Overall, though, the book’s strengths far outweigh its deficiencies. If you are thinking of bringing a paralegal on board, this book will greatly benefit both you and the paralegal. At the very least, following its advice will keep you out of ethical trouble and help define the parameters of the paralegal-attorney relationship.
Nick Zales, Marquette 1989, is a sole practitioner in Milwaukee and a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Communications Committee and the WisTAF board.
**This book review was reprinted with permission of the October 2011 Wisconsin Lawyer, the official publication of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the author.**