When people find themselves suddenly needing legal representation, it's often because they are facing less than ideal or truly unfortunate circumstances. Indeed, they may have been placed under arrest, served with divorce papers, involved in an accident, learned they are being deported or even lost a loved one.
Compounding the anxiety that frequently accompanies such scenarios is the fact that many people might not know where exactly to look for an attorney. Indeed, they might be so out of sorts and/or concerned about money that they begin to examine the feasibility of non-attorneys -- i.e., paralegals, legal assistants -- handling their case.
While this type of confusion is understandable, it's imperative for people to understand that non-attorneys cannot help with their legal issue. Indeed, if a non-attorney attempts to handle a case, he or she may face prosecution for the unlicensed practice of law.
In general, paralegals who work in a law office are trained professionals who must secure the necessary certification, follow a strict code of ethics and work under the supervision of a licensed attorney. As such, those who do not meet these requirements should not be referring to themselves as such and should not be handling any legal matters.
While you might think this is a non-issue, consider that the problem of people being confused about the use of titles such as paralegal and legal assistant was once so prevalent that the Supreme Court of Florida was forced to approve a new rule dictating that use of these titles was improper if services were being provided directly to the public.
As to the services that non-attorneys can actually provide to the public, they are extremely limited: they can sell you a pre-printed form and fill it in with the information you supply. In other words, they can't tell you what information to provide or even what form to use.
What all of this serves to underscore is that despite what an advertisement might say, a non-attorney cannot give you legal advice and cannot represent you in any legal proceeding.
If you have questions about this issue or have been harmed by what you believe was attorney malpractice, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.