HISTORY OF THE PARALEGAL PROFESSION
It is difficult for most lawyers to imagine a legal profession that did not include paralegals and legal assistants. Paralegals are employed in a wide variety of legal settings, play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of affordable and efficient legal services, and are valuable members of many legal teams. Although the paralegal profession is still young—it began only about four decades ago—the rapid growth in the number and responsibilities of these highly skilled non-lawyer professionals shows no signs of slowing.
Origins of the Paralegal Profession
The roots of the paralegal profession can be traced to the late 1960s when Congress, law firms, local bar associations, and the American Bar Association (ABA) began significant efforts to increase access to legal services and reduce poverty in the United States. Growing numbers of Americans from all socioeconomic levels were coming into contact with the legal system at the same time that more complex laws and procedures were increasing the cost of legal services. One proposal intended to offer greater access to justice was the increased use of educated non-lawyers to handle legal work that otherwise would be performed by licensed attorneys. These early non-lawyers were not members of the bar and had little or no formal legal education. Instead, many were experienced legal secretaries who received additional onthe-job training to increase their knowledge of the law and develop skills necessary to perform complex legal tasks. These early paralegals were members of the legal services delivery team, worked under supervision of lawyers, and were known by many titles, including legal assistant, lawyer's aide, lawyer/attorney assistant, legal service assistant, legal paraprofessional, lay assistant, legal technician, lay advocate, paralegal assistant, and paralegal. Today, these professionals are most commonly referred to as legal assistants or paralegals—and these two terms are used interchangeably in most jurisdictions.