There are a variety of opportunities for paralegals to make a difference in their communities, both as volunteers and as employed activists.
The following are some examples of the grass-roots work that paralegals do:
Pro Bono Work
The demand for paralegals in pro bono work (work undertaken voluntarily and without payment) is on the rise. Not only does this work contribute to causes and social sectors in need, it also provides valuable personal growth and professional development opportunities. In its commitment to pro bono work, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) states:
NFPA is committed to paralegal involvement in pro bono services and the delegates have adopted pro bono related agenda topics since 1979. With the legal needs of low-income individuals increasing, paralegal involvement in pro bono activities has become even more critical. Paralegals can benefit the community, the private bar, the judiciary, and the paralegal profession by volunteering of their time, abilities, and skills as trained legal professionals. Pro bono activities also give the local paralegal associations’ greater visibility with bar associations, the judiciary, and the public.
Serve as Paralegal Community Advocates
Paralegals play vital roles in advancing community initiatives through their work in supporting advocacy projects. The Equal Justice Center (EJC) in Dallas, Texas is one example of organizations that hire paralegals to create outreach strategies, to assist lawyers with discovery and investigations, and to interact with communities to build relationships with disadvantaged or immigrant populations. Paralegals who do this kind of work often find themselves on the frontlines of advocacy efforts. At Dallas-based EJC, for instance, they are at the forefront of ‘empowering low-income families, workers, and communities to achieve fair treatment in the workplace, in the justice system, and in our shared society – regardless of immigration status.’
Directly provide relief to their local communities
Paralegals can volunteer their time during national disasters by supporting organizations such as the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center. This organization serves the important role of linking communities facing unexpected circumstances to legal organizations, enabling families to normalize their lives again.
Serve causes they feel close to
Many non-profit and philanthropic organizations need paralegals and lawyers to assist with legal issues. Some have both volunteer and paid opportunities. There is a vast array of non-profits operating locally, nationally, and internationally. Here is a list of some of the best known non-profits:
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Human Rights Campaign
Doctors Without Borders
American Red Cross
Save The Children
St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
The Trevor Project
Safe Kids Worldwide Oxfam International
Habitat for Humanity
Influence change in their profession
It is possible for paralegals to affect the future of their profession by using their education and training to change rules or access to opportunities in the field.
One notable paralegal, Charlene Sabini, had a significant influence on the field when she persuaded her local Bar Association in Oregon to extend ‘affiliated membership’ to non-lawyer support professionals, allowing them greater access to education opportunities and greater visibility in the legal community. Her efforts helped paralegals network with attorneys more easily and be recognized as valuable members of the legal arena.
Sabini reflected on her experience in an article entitled Making a Difference 101. She wrote, ‘The growth of the legal assistant/paralegal profession is now, in some firms, greater than merely a secretarial slot. We are no longer simply assistants to a profession – we are a profession unto ourselves.’
To further explore how paralegals include pro bono, community, and philanthropic work in their portfolio, visit https://www.probono.net/.
A paralegal is someone who performs delegated legal work for which a lawyer is ultimately responsible.