Can Paralegals Represent Their Clients in the Courtroom?

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We asked eleven attorneys from across the nation if paralegals can represent their clients in the courtroom. All of the attorneys said a legal staff member cannot represent their clients in the courtroom. In some countries they have made recent strides in allowing paralegals to represent clients in court, however, they are not currently permitted to represent their clients in the U.S.

In New Jersey a paralegal can absolutely not represent a client in the courtroom. They can be present to assist a licensed attorney. But they cannot engage activities such as questioning witnesses, providing opening/closing statements, making objections, etc. While paralegals provide a very important function in the practice of law, in New Jersey, the only people allowed to address the Court are attorneys.

Erik Anderson, Esq.

No, paralegals are not licensed to practice law and cannot represent a client in court. The exception might be a law student later in his or her law career, who can get an intern's license and represent clients on certain minor cases.

Matthew C. Bangerter
Attorney and Counselor at Law

Interesting question, but I am pretty sure the answer is NO. Otherwise it would be the unauthorized practice of law. Really depends on how you define 'represent.

Jared A. Jacobson
Jared Jacobson Law, LLC

Short answer is no. That would be practicing law as it requires too many variables to be evaluated and reacted to. I suppose there could be a situation where a paralegal could assist a self-represented party in court, but not speak on that party's behalf.

Connecticut defines the practice of law as "ministering to the legal needs of another person and applying legal principles and judgment to the circumstances or objectives of that person. This includes, but is not limited to: (1) Holding oneself out in any manner as an attorney, lawyer, counselor, advisor or in any other capacity which directly or indirectly represents that such person is either (a) qualified or capable of performing or (b) is engaged in the business or activity of performing any act constituting the practice of law as herein defined. (2) Giving advice or counsel to persons concerning or with respect to their legal rights or responsibilities or with regard to any matter involving the application of legal principles to rights, duties, obligations or liabilities. (3) Drafting any legal document or agreement involving or affecting the legal rights of a person. (4) representing any person in a court, or in a formal administrative adjudicative proceeding or other formal dispute resolution process or in any administrative adjudicative proceeding in which legal pleadings are filed or a record is established as the basis for judicial review. (5) Giving advice or counsel to any person, or representing or purporting to represent the interest of any person, in a transaction in which an interest in property is transferred where the advice or counsel, or the representation or purported representation, involves (a) the preparation, evaluation, or interpretation of documents related to such transaction or to implement such transaction or (b) the evaluation or interpretation of procedures to implement such transaction, where such transaction, documents, or procedures affect the legal rights, obligations, liabilities or interests of such person, and (6) engaging in any other act which may indicate an occurrence of the authorized practice of law in the state of Connecticut as established by case law, statute, ruling or other authority."

Gregory A. Allen

In almost all circumstances a paralegal cannot represent a client in a courtroom.

Some states may authorize specific instances where non-lawyers can represent someone in court. In South Carolina for example these include probate estate cases where appearances are allowed by accountants, and company employees in small claims court. Paralegals that overstep their authority can face contempt of court, as well as criminal charges for the unauthorized practice of law.

In addition, most states require that paralegals must work under the supervision of a licensed attorney, meaning that paralegals cannot operate independently from an attorney even for routine matters such as wills or uncontested divorces. Restrictions on non-lawyer practice is actively enforced because in most states paralegals (unlike nurses) are not licensed or regulated by the state, and have no specific education or experience requirements.

James R. Snell, Jr.
Attorney at Law

A paralegal can never represent someone in court. An individual or a corporation can represent themselves (Pro Per) or be represented by an attorney. A paralegal cannot represent another entity in court.

Adam L. Pearlman
Law Offices of Adam L. Pearlman
A Professional Corporation

Paralegals may not represent clients in a courtroom or in any other tribunal. This would be unlicensed practice of law in Florida. Here is the link.
"RULE 4-5.5 UNLICENSED PRACTICE OF LAW; MULTIJURISDICTIONAL PRACTICE OF LAW(a) Practice of Law. A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction other than the lawyer's home state, in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in the lawyer's home state or assist another in doing so.(b) Prohibited Conduct. A lawyer who is not admitted to practice in Florida shall not:

(1) except as authorized by other law, establish an office or other regular presence in Florida for the practice of law; (2) hold out to the public or otherwise represent that the lawyer is admitted to practice law in Florida; or (3) appear in court, before an administrative agency, or before any other tribunal unless authorized to do so by the court, administrative agency, or tribunal pursuant to the applicable rules of the court, administrative agency, or tribunal."

Daniel C. Tighe Esq.

I do not know of any court that would allow a paralegal to represent a client in a courtroom. There are places where a paralegal could assist a client, like in mediation or interviews. A paralegal could also assist an attorney at hearings but the client should always be represented by an attorney. A paralegal cannot give legal advice, nor can they practice law. To allow a paralegal to appear on the behalf of a client in court would be crossing the line into practicing law. Even third year law students are only allowed to represent clients under the supervision of an attorney who must be present at all times.

I have been an attorney in Virginia for almost 17 years. I worked for a law firm while I was in law school and qualified to represent clients under what is called the third year practice rule. I have paralegals who work for me who are very knowledgeable about the law but we would never dream of having a paralegal appear on behalf of a client in court.

Edrie A. Pfeiffer,
Hampton Roads Legal Services

It can sometimes be murky about what paralegals can and cannot do, and in some countries they have made recent strides in allowing paralegals to represent clients in the courtroom to lower costs and try to make justice more readily available.

In the United States a legal assistant cannot represent clients in contested matters in the courtroom. There are some administrative agencies which will allow paralegals to represent individuals at the administrative hearing stage, but if the final order of the agency is appealed to a court the individual would need to obtain a lawyer for representation.

Steven Sweat
Glotzer & Sweat LLP

NO! Only lawyers can represent clients in a courtroom. Paralegals can prepare motions, trial exhibits, and sit with the attorney in court, but only the attorney can sign papers that go in the court file, or speak on behalf of a client. To do so otherwise is a criminal offense of unlicensed practice of law.

Shane Fischer, Attorney at Law
Shane E. Fischer, P.A.

No. Paralegals cannot represent any clients in the courtroom. Paralegals can do legal research, legal writing, drafting memorandum, and trial motions, but they cannot represent clients in the courtroom.

-Alfonso Cabañas, US/Mexican Attorney

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