What To Expect From Paralegals

They Play Important Roles in Assisting Immigration Attorneys and Immigrants

Paralegals assist attorneys working cases.
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Many immigrants get confused about what services paralegals can perform.

In a number of foreign countries, people working as paralegals or notary publics are often legally authorized to take on significant responsibilities in the court system. But in the United States, paralegals are not permitted to practice law, try cases or act as officers of the court.

Unscrupulous people claiming to be paralegals have exploited this confusion to victimize immigrants over the years.

Government officials warn immigrants to beware of so-called paralegals who promise a lot and charge a lot, then deliver little or nothing at all.

A paralegal should be closely affiliated with a lawyer and should not work independently.

Scam artists have been a nationwide problem that have infected the ranks of reputable paralegals who can provide important assistance to immigrants. A qualified, competent paralegal can play a key role in helping an immigration attorney advance your case.

Here are some important things to remember when it comes to working with paralegals:

First, it’s important to realize what paralegals aren’t and what they cannot do. Paralegals are not attorneys and they are not government officials. Paralegals do not have special connections with immigration authorities or law enforcement.

Beware of paralegals who make grand promises or guarantee positive results. Beware of paralegals who work independently or who do not have close working relationships with immigration lawyers.

To find an immigration lawyer or check on the credentials of one, contact the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) or the local American Bar Association. The AILA is an association of more than 11,000 attorneys and law professors who specialize in immigration law and know how to handle immigrants’ cases.

Most paralegals assist immigration lawyers by being an open line of communication with the client. So, it’s important that you’re able to communicate with your paralegal.

Make sure there are no language barriers. If the paralegal can’t speak your language, ask for translation services. Be sure you understand what’s going on. It’s essential that your paralegal answers your questions and that you can process the answers.

Ask the paralegal about his or her experience in dealing with immigration cases that are similar to yours.

If you’re dealing with a larger law firm, there could be paralegals who specialize in different fields. If possible, you want to work with the paralegal who has experience in immigration law and has a track record with your immigration attorney.

Paralegals can do important research work for attorneys. It’s important that you cooperate with your paralegal and provide all the accurate information that’s needed to make your case. A competent paralegal knows what questions to ask you and where to find information that’s missing.

Under the supervision of an immigration lawyer, a paralegal can prepare legal documents. But be careful here. Make sure that an immigration attorney is always overseeing the process.

Also, make sure that you are not paying a paralegal to fill out forms that you could easily fill out yourself.

Most government forms are available for downloading online. The forms are free of charge, but the government charges filing fees for many services. Disreputable service providers are known for charging immigrants for government forms. Never pay for a form. Beware of scammers who prey on immigrant communities.

Your paralegal should be accessible to you. He or she should return your calls promptly and answer your questions by getting information from the immigration lawyer when it’s needed.

A good paralegal will keep you informed about deadlines or important calendar dates. By helping with the client with the nuts-and-bolts assignments of immigration cases, the paralegal frees the lawyer to handle the more complicated work.

A capable and reputable immigration lawyer will almost always have a capable and reputable paralegal in the office.

A law firm with a good reputation will have paralegals you can trust. A capable paralegal can make your life easier, and the attorney’s too. Paralegals play an important role in the legal process and can be invaluable in helping to advance your case.