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The Study of Law by Mind Map: The Study of Law
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The Study of Law

Why should paralegals study the law? They aren't lawyers, after all. Right? True. A paralegal is not a lawyer, but it is important that a potential paralegal study the law. Paralegals use critical thinking skills to perform legal research and analysis of the law. Then they apply the law to the facts of the client's case. By developing this skill, a paralegal helps the attorney keep costs down for a client (a paralegal will bill a lower hourly rate than the lawyer) and keep the work load current.

Critical Thinking Skills and Legal Analysis

Critical thinking skills are vital for a paralegal. The attached article, How Critical Thinking Can Help You Solve Problems, states that critical thinking is "a process" in which a person uses reason to analyze information. The author states, "Someone who has good critical thinking skills will look at both sides of an argument, and they will also look at evidence to support the two arguments. In addition to this, they will break down the arguments and looking at the implications which are connected to them. Once they've done this, they will look for contradictions. The side that has the least amount of contradictions will be supported, while the side that has the most contradictions will be discarded." Being able to argue both sides of an argument is important if you want to be able to support your theory of a case.

Fact Gathering

The first step in critically assessing a legal matter is to gather and analyze the facts. The client always tells a story built from his or her version of the facts. Try to remember that this version of the facts is not the only version. The facts of the case are important because the answer to the legal question will differ depending on even a minor change in the facts. A paralegal may sit in on the initial interview with the client to take notes or may get the notes from the supervising attorney after-the-fact. Regardless, a careful review of the facts is necessary so that any gaps may be filled in with follow-up questions. See the attached link for more information about gather facts at an initial interview.

Legal Research

Legal research is so important in a Paralegal's career that most Paralegal Studies programs have at least one, and maybe more than one, whole course to teach it. Some time in your career, you will be asked to research state and federal law, administrative regulations, constitutional provisions, and case law. While this prospect may seem overwhelming, in time you will become well-versed in legal research. Not only will you be exposed to research in hard-copy format, you will learn to research the law using the computer.

Applying Law to the Facts

The fascinating thing about the law is that every client's legal answer will be different. Applying the law to the facts of the client's case is called "legal reasoning." Usually, the result in a client's specific case will depend on what the courts have decided in similar cases in the past. This concept is called "stare decisis." We call cases that the court uses to make decisions in similar cases "precedent" (see the icon for a URL attached to this topic for further information). There is usually no "right or wrong" answer to a legal question. All legal cases have two sides and each side believes his or her theory of the case is the right on. Finding information that will support your client's version of the case is what you will be paid for.

Reporting the Results

Paralegals are required to put all of their research, and the application of the law to the client's facts, in writing. Sometimes, the writings are informal (as in a memo to the file). Other times, the writings can be quite formal (as in a legal memorandum).

Sources of the Law

As you move through your course of study, you will spend a great deal of time on the law and where it comes from. For now, you should know that there are primary and secondary sources of law. Primary sources are "mandatory." In other words, a court must follow primary law if it applies to the case. Secondary sources of the law are "persuasive." A court may use these sources to help in the decision-making process. Click on the icon for the URL link to read further about primary and secondary sources of the law.

Ethics

Attorneys are guided by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Each state has its own set of rules. There are suggested rules for Paralegals, but essentially, legal staff is governed under the "umbrella" under which the attorney is covered because every attorney is responsible for the behavior of his or her law office staff. Because of this, a paralegal never sends out a document he or she has drafted without the attorney reviewing it, approving it, and signing it. Ethics and morals are different. You may feel that something is morally wrong, but find that it is perfectly ethical according to the Rules. Legal ethics is explained further in the URL attached to this topic. Click the icon to access the URL. You can find suggested ethical rules for Paralegals on the NALA or NFPA website. These two organizations are national Paralegal organizations.

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