The Profession



The definition of a paralegal by the American Bar Association states a legal assistant or a 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. Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a paralegal’s work rests directly and solely upon the lawyer.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) defines a paralegal as a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.

This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.

Because we are not licensed attorneys, paralegals are not able to give legal advice, set fees, appear as counsel of record in court or sign pleadings or other court documents in a representative capacity. Paralegals many times are responsible for handling tasks such as legal writing, research, investigation and other forms of documentation for the lawyers they work with.


Responsibilities Regarding Non-Lawyer Assistants

Missouri Supreme Court Rule of Professional Conduct 4-5.3 states that lawyers must directly supervise their assistants and are responsible for their assistants’ conduct. The complete rule is as follows –
With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer:

(a) a partner, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm, shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the person’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;

(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the person’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and

(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a person that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:

(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or

(2) the lawyer is a partner, or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.

Gavel and Scales of Justice


[1] Lawyers generally employ assistants in their practice, including secretaries, investigators, law student interns, and paraprofessionals. Such assistants, whether employees or independent contractors, act for the lawyer in rendition of the lawyer’s professional services. A lawyer must give such assistants appropriate instruction and supervision concerning the ethical aspects of their employment, particularly regarding the obligation not to disclose information relating to representation of the client, and should be responsible for their work product. The measures employed in supervising nonlawyers should take account of the fact that they do not have legal training and are not subject to professional discipline.

[2] Rule 4-5.3(a) requires lawyers with managerial authority within a law firm to make reasonable efforts to establish internal policies and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that nonlawyers in the firm will act in a way compatible with the Rules of Professional Conduct. See Comment [1] to Rule 4-5.1. Rule 4-5.3(b) applies to lawyers who have supervisory authority over the work of a nonlawyer. Rule 4-5.3(c) specifies the circumstances in which a lawyer is responsible for conduct of a nonlawyer that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer.

In 2012, the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook stated the 2010 medial pay for paralegals and legal assistants was $46,680 per year ($22.44 per hour). This same source stated employment of paralegals and legal assistants was expected to grow by 18 percent from 2010 to 2020 but this occupation attracts many applicants and competition for jobs will be strong. Experienced, formally trained paralegals should have the best job prospects.

Legal: Taking Notes

NFPA® Model Disciplinary Rules and Ethical Considerations

  • A paralegal shall achieve and maintain a high level of competence.
  • A paralegal shall maintain a high level of personal and professional integrity.
  • A paralegal shall maintain a high standard of professional conduct.
  • A paralegal shall serve the public interest by contributing to the improvement of the legal system and delivery of quality legal services, including pro bono publico services.
  • A paralegal shall preserve all confidential information provided by the client or acquired from other sources before, during, and after the course of the professional relationship.
  • A paralegal shall avoid conflicts of interest and shall disclose any possible conflict to the employer or client, as well as to the prospective employers or clients.
  • A paralegal’s title shall be fully disclosed.
  • A paralegal shall not engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

Brochure about Missouri Paralegals from MOBar


National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)


Founded in 1974, NFPA was the first national paralegal association. Created as a non-profit federation, NFPA is an issues-driven, policy-oriented professional association directed by its membership. It is comprised of more than 50 member associations and represents over 9,000 individual members reflecting a broad range of experience, education and diversity. MPA is a proud member of NFPA.

Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE)


The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) is offered by NFPA to test the competency level of experienced paralegals. PACE is offered to paralegals who have a minimum of two years’ experience and meet specific educational requirements. PACE is designed for professional paralegals who want to pioneer the expansion of paralegal roles for the future of the profession, not to restrict entry into the profession. For more information about the PACE exam, visit