What does ‘paralegal’ mean?
The prefix ‘para’ comes from Greek. It means ‘beside’, ‘side by side’ or ‘at one side of’. Thus, a paralegal is a person who primarily works ‘beside’ attorneys in a law firm. The term ‘paralegal’ originally came from the United States of America and from a few European countries that adopted it. From the early 1990s it became more widely used overseas and also in South Africa.
Does a paralegal only work in a law firm?
No, certainly not. A paralegal can also work in other legal environments, for example, as an advocate’s secretary, or as an assistant to a legal adviser in the legal department of a large commercial enterprise such as a bank, insurance company, medical aid scheme, manufacturing company, mine, charity, non-profit organisation (NGO), etc.
Are your courses accredited?
No, our courses are not formally ‘accredited’ by any government institution, but we have something much better to offer. Since our establishment in 1994, more than 27 years ago, we have received practical recognition from attorneys, advocates and law firms countrywide. Their recognition of the true intrinsic value and the high-quality training we offer are important reasons for our continued success.
Are there other job titles for paralegals?
Yes, there is. A more descriptive and accurate term for a paralegal is ‘legal assistant’. Collectively, legal assistants are referred to as legal support staff.
Although the term ‘paralegal’ has become widely accepted, also in South Africa, we prefer the more descriptive term ‘legal assistant’. The term ‘legal assistant’ equally describes the nature of the work done. It refers to a person ‘assisting’ a qualified legal practitioner. In other words, working ‘alongside’ an attorney, an advocate, a legal adviser, or a legally qualified person in any other formal legal environment. That could be in either the formal private or the public sector. For this reason, we will use both terms interchangeably to show that they have the same meaning.
Conveyancing secretaries or litigation secretaries, are they also paralegals?
Yes, certainly, they are. Although the terms ‘legal assistant’ or ‘paralegal’ are becoming more popular in the South African vernacular, you will find that in many law practices the old fashioned terms ‘conveyancing secretary’ or ‘litigation secretary’ are still used to describe the nature of work being done by these legal assistants (paralegals). A further interesting development is that more-and-more men are doing work previously done by females, for example, an increasing number of men are now doing the work traditionally done by conveyancing secretaries. These men prefer to be referred to as ‘conveyancing assistants’ or ‘conveyancing paralegals’.
What is a paralegal’s job?
In a private law firm, paralegals assist attorneys with tasks ancillary to legal matters such as debt collection, administration of estates, conveyancing, and the management of specialised departments in the practice. Although not admitted to practice law, under the supervision of an attorney, they can run their own files and conduct work supplementary to the work undertaken by the attorney.
In other formal legal environments, such as businesses, large corporations, and government or semi-government institutions, paralegals assist or work alongside trained legal professionals, such as legal advisors.
What is the role of a paralegal?
Paralegals play a vital role in the legal system. Their role is to assist attorneys, advocates, or legal advisors in the delivery of legal services.
What do paralegals do daily?
The range of their duties varies daily between assisting attorneys with the typing of legal documents, organising case files, preparing trial notes, making appointments, preparing legal briefs, and sometimes sitting in with an attorney during client and witness interviews.
Can a paralegal work independently?
Yes, provided that the paralegal has a knowledge of the particular area of the law in which he or she is working. This will be the case in specialised departments with high volumes of turnover and repetitive work, such as conveyancing, debt collection, legal accounting and administration of estates. However, ultimately the attorney must still sign off on all the work done by the paralegal.
What are the job opportunities for a paralegal in South Africa?
There are many job opportunities for legal support staff (paralegals) in South Africa. In Module 1 of our General course career opportunities in both the private and public sectors will be discussed. Suffice to say that there are nine practice areas for paralegals in the private sector and sixteen areas in the public sector. Lastly, there are far more legal assistants in South Africa than formally trained legal practitioners (advocates and attorneys) and legal advisors.
Is there more than one type of paralegal?
Yes, there is. In practice two types of paralegals can be identified, namely, paralegals working either -
- in the formal legal environment; or
- in the community-based legal environment.
What type of training do you offer?
Our training is very specific, specialised and practical. We focus entirely on the formal legal environment and not on the community-based legal environment.
Our training, therefore, pertains to any person pursuing a career, or who wants to advance his or her career, in the formal private sector. Although our training is mainly focused on the work executed in a private law firm (an attorney’s office), some of our specialised courses would be equally valuable for legal assistants working in areas such as the administration of estates departments of large corporates, or the debt collection sections of debt recovery institutions. On the other hand, some of our general introductory courses would be equally valuable for any legal assistant working in either the formal private sector or the public sector.
How long does it take to get trained as a paralegal?
Unlike attorneys and advocates, who must complete years of formal education and pass the admission exams before they can practice law, you can become a paralegal after as little as a few months of study - provided that you register with the right institution.
Although there are several institutions offering training to paralegals, all their programmes are highly academic and structured quite broadly in order to cater to both types of paralegals identified above. The formal legal environment, however, requires focussed and practical legal training.
What makes your training unique?
The unique feature of our training programmes is that we offer practical paralegal training which can be immediately applied in the workplace.
Our courses consist of both a theoretical and a practical component. Much of the law is theoretical and must be learned and understood. However, theory without practical application is useless. Our aim is to focus on the practical application of the law, from a legal assistant’s point of view.
What courses do you offer?
Our training consists of two components, namely:
- General courses; and
- Specialised courses.
General courses consist of three introductory courses which lay the foundation for a legal assistant’s understanding of the law and the formal legal environment in which he or she will operate, namely:
- Module 1 - Legal practice
- Module 2 - South African law
- Module 3 - Practical legal skills
Specialised courses consist of several advanced practical courses in each of the following specialised fields of law:
- Civil litigation
- Debt collection
- Legal bookkeeping
- Business law
- Administration of estates
These courses can be taken separately and in any sequence. In fact, each represents a highly specialised field, and a legal assistant would probably choose one of them as a career choice, in other words, commit to becoming a conveyancing secretary or a debt collections legal assistant. The same would apply to any of the other fields of specialisation.
Certificates for legal assistants
A Certificate will be issued upon successful completion of each module of the general course and a Diploma in Legal Practice will be issued upon completion of all three modules.
A Certificate will be issued upon successful completion of each specialised course, and where a specialised course consists of more than one module, for each module.
Both General and Specialised courses are vocational training par excellence. Our training prepares you for the practical day-to-day duties that you will be performing as a legal assistant in various specialised sections of an attorney’s law firm, as a secretary to an advocate, or as a legal assistant working alongside a legal practitioner in a large corporate institution or the public sector.
Must I have a matric certificate to register for any of your courses?
No, you don’t. However, if you don’t have a matric certificate, we would recommend that you register for Module 1 of the General course first. This will be your test. If you can’t pass this module, then it is likely that you are not cut out for this type of work and the probability that you may fail the other courses are high. However, if you understand, like, and pass this module then it is most likely that you will succeed in the rest. So, whether you have or don’t have a matric certificate is up to you. We don’t require such a certificate.
What are the most important qualities a legal assistant should have?
The most important thing is to know your files well. You must know exactly what is happening at all times in your work so that you can speak confidently to clients about the progress of their case.
It is also important to be very organised and to think ahead all the time. Then you can give clients the best service possible.
You must be able to function under high pressure and be able to run multiple files at the same time.
The turnaround time in some legal matters may be very short and you must be able to work fast and with great accuracy.
Finally, always be prepared to learn new things. The more eager you are to learn, the better the progress you will make in your work.
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Admission Application Template Pack
Fill out this form to download your FREE copy of our template pack for the application to be admitted as legal practitioner.
The template pack includes:
- A checklist for the application for admission in terms of the Legal Practice Act
- A list of requisite annexures
- A template for the notice of motion
- A template for the founding affidavit
- A template for the supporting affidavit