According to the Paralegal Alliance, there is no legal difference between the terms “independent” and “freelance” as the laws that govern the paralegal profession do not make a distinction between titles and treat all non-lawyer paralegals the same. However, strict legalese employs the two terms specifically to describe the distinctive roles that fall under each.
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Independent paralegals primarily prepare legal documents for the public. Thus, they are also called legal document preparers or forms practitioners. These forms include bankruptcy petitions, small estate petitions and affidavits, uncontested divorce forms, powers of attorney, simple contracts, deeds, and estate planning and probate documents. However, independent paralegals are not allowed to prepare pleadings and provide legal advice because they do not work under the supervision of lawyers.
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Freelance paralegals, meanwhile, provide legal assistance to lawyers and are also referred to as freelance legal assistant or contract paralegal. They prepare various legal documents under the supervision of their employers, from briefs and memoranda of law for the Courts to “everyday documents,” like divorce and probate pleadings. Just like independent paralegals, however, they are not allowed to give legal advice as this would be considered an unauthorized practice of law.
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Both independent and freelance paralegals need educational background or experience in preparing legal documents to effectively perform their functions. Some states also require independent paralegals to obtain certification and licenses before marketing their services. Freelance paralegals, meanwhile, are not required by any state to be certified but are advised to acquire certification from nationally recognized paralegal associations to establish their credibility in the legal community.