Frequently Asked Questions about Legal Document Assistants
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a Legal Document Assistant?
WHO ARE LEGAL DOCUMENT ASSISTANTS (LDA's)? Legal Document Assistants were once commonly known as Independent Paralegals. However, as of January 1st, 2000, only those Paralegals working directly for attorneys may now be referred to as Paralegals. Those formerly known as Independent Paralegals are now officially known as Legal Document Assistants (LDAs). LDAs often have the same educational background as a paralegal and are REQUIRED by law to be registered and bonded in the county in which they have their principal place of business. Please Note: A Legal Document Assistant is NOT a Lawyer. By law, they cannot give you legal advice or represent you in the courts in any matter. If you need to consult with an attorney, your LDA will be able to provide you with a referral. We always suggest that you be sure to ask the LDA you are thinking of retaining if he or she is bonded and registered in their county. This is for your protection. All LDAs listed on our Member Search Engine are registered and bonded by their counties. If a person is acting as an LDA but is not registered and bonded, then they are operating illegally in California. The Bond is for your protection!
A NEW PROFESSION IN CALIFORNIA: For the first time, a new California law known as SB1418 authorizes non-lawyers to prepare legal documents for people doing their own legal tasks. Effective January 1, 2000, these non-lawyers, called Legal Document Assistants, may: -Distribute to their customers legal materials that have been published or approved by a lawyer -Prepare the customers’ legal documents under the direction of their customers -File the customers’ legal documents in the appropriate courts. To qualify as an L.D.A., a person must: -Register in the County in which they work; and Post a $25,000 Bond; and Establish that he or she has a minimum level of experience and/or education; and have a minimum of a Bachelor's Degree; and may have many years of experience working as a Paralegal or for the Courts in some legal capacity; and Every Legal Document Assistant is required to use a Contract (which provides appropriate notice to the Legal Document Assistant’s customers regarding the scope of the customers’ rights and the Legal Document Assistant’s duties. Only a few LDA's carry Errors and Omissions Insurance (not a requirement).
WHAT DOES AN LDA DO? An LDA is an experienced professional who is authorized to prepare legal documents for a client, but only at the direction of the client. In other words, an LDA is there to assist the “self-help” client handle their own legal matters without the cost of an attorney. Since even the best legal, self-help books can be confusing and overwhelming, your LDA can provide invaluable assistance with routine legal tasks, such as typing and filing the paperwork for uncontested divorces, bankruptcies, wills, and many other types of documents. Again, because an LDA is forbidden to practice law of any sort, they cannot make suggestions as to what the client needs done for a particular matter, or what forms that the client must file with the state or the other party to the action. For example, to file an uncontested divorce in California, there are approximately 6 different forms that must be filled out exactly. Naturally, the average client doesn’t know what forms he or she needs. The LDA is not allowed to suggest to the client what forms would be necessary for an uncontested divorce, because that requires legal know-how and legal judgment, and it constitutes UPL(unauthorized practice of law). The LDA is, however, allowed to have a pre-printed instruction sheet or list, prepared by a licensed California Attorney, which specifies what forms are needed for an uncontested divorce. The LDA can merely hand over the sheet and tell the client: “Here is what a lawyer says you need for a divorce. Would you like me to fill out THESE forms for you?” The same goes, naturally, for ALL other services the LDA provides. They must have a detailed guide, approved by an attorney, stating exactly what forms are needed. The LDA is not allowed to use his or her judgement and say, “Well, really you’re talking about this type of case instead of that type of case. Therefore, you should follow this course of action and file THESE forms instead.” The CLIENT must know what he or she wants, and what forms to use (or decide on the forms based on the attorney-approved instruction list), and the LDA is there to fill in the forms. However, just because an LDA is only there to fill out forms doesn’t mean they aren’t an invaluable resource for your legal matter. Many, if not all, legal forms are very confusing; incorrectly filled out forms will delay your case, possibly for a long time. An experienced LDA can help you avoid the pitfalls and also make sure every important detail on a form is accounted for. This alone makes them the best choice for your self-help legal endeavors. As all certified LDAs are professionals trained in multiple fields, there are a number of services they can provide.
WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF HIRING AN LDA? LDAs provide a low-cost alternative to hiring an attorney for routine paperwork. In many cases, one visit will usually be sufficient for you to be able to handle most matters. LDAs will provide you with top-quality assistance.
DO I NEED AN LDA? If you do not know your legal rights in a situation, chances are highly likely that you may need to see an attorney. If you already have decided on a course of action, but are uncertain about how to fill out the paperwork, you may need your own personal LDA. If you recently bought a legal self-help book, an LDA may be especially helpful in assisting you to finish and file your legal paperwork.