Legal assistants and paralegals are individuals who assist lawyers in the delivery of legal services. Legal assistants and paralegals cannot give legal advice to consumers of legal services. Legal advice may only be relied upon if given by an attorney. All states require attorneys to be licensed and most have statutes imposing penalties for the unauthorized practice of law. The following definition was adopted by the NALA membership in 1986:
Legal assistants, now more commonly known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of individuals who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, paralegals have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.
In recognition of the similarity of the definitions and the need for one clear definition, in July 2001, the NALA membership approved a resolution to adopt the definition of the American Bar Association as well.
The ABA definition reads as follows:
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. (Adopted by the ABA in 1997) .
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations.