Most individuals either think of an attorney or a paralegal when they feel they need legal assistance.  However, most individuals either don’t know or realize that there are two choices for legal support but they are not the two obvious choices. The two choices are actually between an attorney and a legal document assistant (LDA).

The difference between a paralegal and a legal document assistant can be confusing.  A paralegal refers to someone who works for and is supervised by an attorney.  A paralegal, by law, cannot do work for the general public on their own. Paralegals cannot accept fees for services or independently prepare documents for consumers/the general public.

In terms of an education difference between the paralegal and a legal document assistant, there may not be a difference depending on the paralegal or legal document assistant you are working with. They both require a certain amount of legal education and most have degrees.

The alternative to a paralegal, the legal document assistant is authorized, under California law, to prepare legal documents for consumers or the general public. LDA’s sometimes consist of former paralegal’s who branched off from the supervision of an attorney to work for themselves and assist individual consumers with legal document support. They also consist of individuals who may not have been a paralegal but have a working knowledge and experience working on the legal documents required for certain types of legal cases.

LDA’s, unlike paralegals, may work with the general public while simultaneously providing services such as legal research and administration for attorney clients. LDA’s must be registered and bonded with the county in which they provide services.

LDA’s are an excellent resource for the average consumer because they can accurately complete legal forms that may be too complex for the average person to understand, at a fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney.  LDA’s may also supply books and publications authored by an attorney or approved by the courts.

An LDA cannot represent you in court, provide legal advice, tell you what information should be placed into legal documents, and cannot select forms for you. However, most reputable LDA’s may provide you with brochures that have been authored by an attorney that will explain the legal process step by step for your individual type of case.

 The benefit of hiring what was formerly referred to as a paralegal and now referred to as a legal document assistant is the cost. In some cases, you may not need to spend the amount necessary to retain an attorney for administrative legal matters such as: a name change, uncontested divorce, wills, power of attorneys, contracts, etc. An LDA may be the answer to these types of matters.

Before hiring an LDA contact your County Clerk or County Recorder and ask for a list of registered LDA’s in your area and confirm the LDA is registered and bonded. Lastly, ensure you review the contract for services which will be provided by the LDA.