As paralegals strive to define their roles as significant members of the legal team the discussion about Legal Document Assistants cannot be ignored. In 1998 Senator Rosenthal introduced SB 1418 to regulate individuals who prepare legal documents for consumers in California. Due to the introduction and passage of this Bill those who prepare legal documents for the general public in California may no longer use the title Independent Paralegal but must use the title Legal Document Assistant or Unlawful Detainer Assistant. Although, this was a step in differentiating paralegals from those who prepare documents for the general public there is still much confusion about the difference.
The defining line between a Legal Document Assistant/Unlawful Detainer Assistant and a paralegal is that the former provides legal typing services to the general public and paralegals provide substantive legal support under the direction of a licensed attorney. Since paralegals work under the direction of an attorney they cannot accept new clients or set fees for attorneys but Legal Document Assistants and Unlawful Detainer Assistants can accept clients and set fees for those clients. Another important factor to consider is who will be providing representation and legal advice. With Legal Document Assistants and Unlawful Detainer Assistants the client is representing themselves and therefore cannot receive legal advice from those preparing the legal documents but, when working with a paralegal the client is being represented by an attorney who is the one representing the client and providing legal advice. Consumers who are looking to save on legal costs are often confused about this differentiating factor. In order to educate consumers about their options when attempting to save on legal costs there is much needed clarification on this issue.