What Is The Difference Between A Paralegal And A Legal Document Assistant?

The terms “paralegal” and “legal document assistant” might seem interchangeable to some, but they are terms for two very different professions with different functions.

Paralegals (sometimes called “Legal Assistants”) are professionals who are qualified by education and training to assist attorneys in providing legal services. They work for the attorneys as employees or contract independent paralegals, and are not hired directly by the public. Their function is to perform research, gather facts, interview witnesses, and prepare legal documents for the attorneys. They cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, prepare documents for clients without the supervision of an attorney, or accept fees for services from a client.

Legal Document Assistants (LDAs) are experienced professionals who are authorized by California law to independently prepare legal documents directly for clients. Like Paralegals, LDAs cannot provide legal advice or represent clients in court. They have similar educational backgrounds as Paralegals, but unlike Paralegals, LDAs are required by law to be registered and bonded in the county in which they have their principal place of business. Registration is valid for two years and is renewable.

Prior to 2001, people who assisted the public in completing legal documents were often called Independent Paralegals, but effective January 1, 2001, Business and Professions Code Section 6450 made the distinction that only those who work for and are supervised by attorneys can be called “paralegals”; LDAs are no longer permitted to call themselves paralegals. This makes sense, since the prefix “para” when used with an occupational role denotes a subordinate assisting role in that occupation. Since LDAs work independently, they are not subordinate to an attorney.

What LDAs can and cannot do for their clients

  • LDAs can help clients complete legal forms for the court.
  • They cannot tell a client the specific information to insert into the documents, but can make sure all the details on the forms are accounted for.
  • They may supply books and other publications that have been written or approved by attorneys to their clients, but may not give legal advice.
  • They can file the legal forms with the court, and serve them on the appropriate parties, but may not interpret documents or represent a client in court.

Some advantages to becoming an LDA

  • Being your own boss, making your own decisions, setting your own schedule = freedom!
  • Having your own business affords you more earning potential than a set salary an employer is willing to pay you.
  • You are not an “invisible” assistant – you get credit for your work and are recognized as an expert in your field.

How will clients find you as an LDA?

  • When you register as an LDA with the county where you conduct business, the County Clerk or County Recorder will include your name on the list of registers LDAs in that county. This list is available to the public.
  • Get yourself listed in the telephone directory (print and Internet) under “Legal Document Assistants”.
  • Contact your County Bar Association to be listed in their local referral service.
  • Become a member of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants) to be listed in their online Member locator.

More about CALDA

CALDA is a non-profit organization for legal document preparation professionals and supporters of this profession. It is focused on helping the public become aware of the Legal Document Assistant profession as distinct from the Paralegal profession. It encourages high standards of ethical and professional conduct, promotes networking among its members, and maintains professional relationships with other organizations and members of the legal community.

Some of the benefits membership in CALDA can offer you as a Legal Document Assistant

  • educational opportunities
  • professional alliance
  • a website business listing
  • member forum exchange
  • attorney-approved printed brochure materials

Note: Much of the information in this article was derived from the brochure “Comparing Legal Document Assistants and Paralegals”, an official publication of CALDA available to its members.

An excellent opportunity for LDAs

The Divorce With Dignity Network is an affiliation of legal professionals (LDAs, attorneys, mediators) who independently own and run a Divorce With Dignity business, providing divorce planning and legal forms services to people seeking an amicable divorce without court litigation. Members of the Network have their own web pages on the Divorce With Dignity website, drawing potential clients in your area directly to you. Although you own your own business, you do not have to figure it all out on your own. We offer one-on-one training in our proven business system to teach you how to set up and manage your business, and training on how to get more clients. Network members are also available for exchange of ideas on monthly conference calls.

Are you a Paralegal ready to explore a new career path to independence and increased rewards as a Legal Document Assistant? Come take a tour of our website and see how Divorce With Dignity could be the great opportunity you are seeking!

The author of this blog is not an attorney and the information contained in these blogs should not be considered legal advice. The information provided here is based on the experience of the author and some of her clients whose actual names are not mentioned. Do not hesitate to seek the advice of an attorney if you have any legal questions.

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