“People who are poor usually do not know about laws that can help them. And there are very few trained personnel who can tell them about these laws. One solution to this problem has been to train people as paralegals. A paralegal is someone who, while not a professional lawyer, has a basic knowledge of the law and is procedure as a result of close association with lawyers and/or legal affairs. In the past, paralegal have been seen as assistants to lawyers, judges, and legal officials of government institution and therefore, in other words, people who support the status quo.
Recently, chances have been taking place to redefine and expand the role of paralegals, and new methods for informing people about their legal rights as well as about the role of the courts and other legal procedure, have been set in motion. These new paralegal, are often recognized community members, such as teachers, nurses, etc.., and their efforts at increasing legal awareness and legal literacy serve are making the law more accessible to the people”. Following are some of the basic concept concerning paralegals as elaborated in the ICG Handbook on the subject. A paralegal worker is a person with basic knowledge of law and procedures with motivation, attitude and skills to:
Conduct education programme to enable them to demand their rights, assist in securing mediation and reconciliation in matters in dispute, conduct preliminary investigation in cases which have to be referred to a lawyer, assist the lawyer with written statement, requiring evidence and other relevant information necessary for dealing with such a case.
There are also persons who are trained as paralegal to deal with a particular situation, for example a person could be trained to assist a community seeking help following a natural calamity. Similarly, a representative of a refuge group could be trained to deal with the problem faced by that group. In general, the experience of groups has been that it is far better for a paralegal o be associated with an organization (either as a paid worker or as a volunteer), so as to receive support to sustain his work as a paralegal.
Roles of Paralegal Workers:
The following are some of the function for which a paralegal worker should be trained: facilitating formation of a people organization: Enabling people to organize themselves around specific issue as well as help them form their own organization. In addition, a paralegal will organize meetings, culture programme an other events that will enable people to strengthen their solidarity and contribute to the formation of their own organization.
Education and conscientization : Creating awareness among the people about their rights as well as imparting information on specific laws of concern to them. In some instances this may involve giving information on specific development and welfare programme initiated by the government and how to participate in them. Social analysis: this is to help the paralegal as well as the people and thus enable them to find a long term solution for them.
Advocacy: paralegals with the help of lawyers and other, bring to the attention of policy problems faced by the disadvantaged groups with they are working.