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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: What is the role of a paralegal?

What is the role of a paralegal? Do they go to law school? Can one represent me in a municipal court for a traffic ticket?

A paralegal is basically someone with some legal knowledge who attends special classes and is the right arm of an attorney. I have always said that a legal secretary who has been performing those tasks for many years are just like a paralegal, in my eyes, but without the title. There are special classes and courses that someone takes to get a paralegal certificate. Paralegals provide a valuable resource, not only to lawyers, but to clients. For example, a paralegal can sit with a client and go over answers to interrogatories and things of that nature, and gather a lot of information on behalf of the client for the lawyer.

That does several things.

One, it saves money to the client who is not paying a lawyer rate to sit there and gather the information and put it on paper. While the paralegal’s time will be billed, it will be billed of course at a significant reduction from the lawyer’s time, hence saving the client money.

Furthermore, a paralegal is usually always available to speak with a client and relay messages back to the attorney when the attorney is otherwise in court, in a deposition or unavailable. Many complaints that have to do with lawyers is a failure to communicate with their client. A paralegal can provide a valuable service in being available all the time to keep the client informed and speak with the client.

Paralegals do not go to law school.

Finally, a paralegal cannot represent you in a municipal court for a traffic matter, because they are not admitted to the bar of the state of New Jersey. Only a licensed attorney can appear in court and represent someone else. Of course, any individual has the right to represent themselves, not only in a municipal court but in a superior court, as well.

For a lot of reasons beyond the scope of your questions, I never think that is a good idea.

I hope this answers your questions.

My 15-year-old son says he wants to be emancipated, and that he is ready to be an adult. What steps are taken to make this happen? Can we block him?

Really? A 15-year-old thinks that they are ready to become an adult.

It appears that you and your 15-year-old probably need to do some counseling. Does a 15-year-old understand responsibilities such as shelter, work, paying the bills, education and the like? I don’t think so.

I need more information than you give in order to adequately give you all the reasons that this is not a good idea. When you indicate what are the steps to make this happen, does that mean that you are in favor of this?

That is why I suggest counseling. I do not believe that any 15-year-old—who is, by my count, a sophomore in high school—is able to function or act in their own best interest as an adult. Does this person intend to drop out of school? As I said, there are more questions at this point; but, in any event, I do not believe it is a good idea, and I think it is only going to lead to problems down the road—not only for your child but for you, as well.

There are resources available through your county and even the state that deal with this. I strongly suggest you take advantage of these things that might be available to you, and you can probably start by calling up the county human services department and speak with them, where they can probably give you some information on this.

I wish you good luck in taking care of this potential problem.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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