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Thesis

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Cowley, JI 2004, 'A comparative study of paralegalism in Australia, the United States of America and England and Wales', Masters thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright JI Cowley 2004

Abstract

This thesis entitled, A Comparative Study of Paralegalism in Australia, the United States of America and England and Wales, examines the role that paralegals play in the delivery of legal services and the educational opportunities that are available to support that role in Australia as compared to England (and Wales) and the United States of America (US). As in other parts of the common law world it is accepted in Australia that not all work which is of a legal nature is performed by qualified legal practitioners. This is despite a rigid demarcation between qualified lawyers and other legal workers. The structure and regulation of the legal profession have an impact in determining the nature of paralegalism in Australia. The legal profession’s monopoly in Australia is, however, confined to the right of appearance in a court of law and to the preparation of certain documents for reward, which leaves a vast field of legal tasks open to performance by other workers, including paralegals.

The legal profession is facing many challenges in the twenty first century, including the need to deliver better and cheaper legal services. Paralegals, as part of the legal service industry, are affected by the same tensions but are well placed to contribute to a more “streamlined” practice and to assist in providing greater access to justice for many disadvantaged Australians.

This thesis explores the difficulties for Australian paralegals given that there is little formal recognition of, or status accorded to, the paraprofession. Indeed, the word paralegal is not easily understood nor widely used and this translates into uncertainties as to qualifications, market position and function to provide a definition and to determine the parameters of the profession. Paralegals work in a variety of legal environments which include, but are not limited to, working in private legal practices where they are supervised by lawyers.

Further, in order to achieve recognition and to make a meaningful contribution to legal service delivery, paralegals require specialist education. This thesis examines the educational opportunities which are available to paralegals in Australia and makes recommendations as to future accreditation based on appropriate qualifications and experience.

In order to gain further insight, comparisons are made between the role that paralegals play in the delivery of legal services in two other common law jurisdictions and Australia. Paralegals play a significant role in the delivery of legal services in the US, where many states constitute bigger jurisdictions than the whole of the Australia. American paralegalism has a twenty year “head start” on that of Australia and it is reasonable to anticipate that their challenges will mirror ours in the future. England, on the other hand, has a legal system very close to our own and the examination of paralegals in both England and Wales has revealed both similarities and differences to our Australian experience, both of which inform the research.

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