How the United States Supreme Court Has Shaped the Paralegal Profession

The paralegal profession has been shaped over the years to better define it and its position within the legal system. Its transformation has been helped along by professional associations and groups, such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), which has had the opportunity to address the Supreme Court on two, different occasions.

NALA participated in two, separate cases, both of which resulted in the recoverability of paralegal fees in awards presented to attorneys. NALA’s support and participation in these cases has helped advance the profession. It continues to support the paralegal profession through continuing education, professional development, seminars, networking opportunities, professional certification programs, and occupational survey findings.

Missouri v. Jenkins, 1989

The very first case brought to the Supreme Court regarding paralegal fee recovery was in 1989 in Missouri v. Jenkins. Using the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Awards Act of 1976 as a backdrop, the petitioner asked the Court to consider that paralegal fees, like attorney fees, should be recovered at market rates. Specifically, the Court was asked if paralegals and law clerks could have their fees reimbursed at market rates following a lengthy litigation. The result of this case allowed paralegals to receive market rates for their services, not the rates originally charged to attorneys.

But this case wasn’t just about the fees, but a much more important matter: Everyone – clients, attorneys, and employees – benefit from the use of paralegals.  The Court stated that “encouraging the use of lower cost paralegals…encourages cost-effective delivery of legal eservices…”

Richlin v. Cheroff, 2008

In another ground-breaking Supreme Court case for the paralegal profession, Richlin v. Cheroff in 2008 again asked the Court is paralegals could be compensated at reimbursed market rates; however, instead of using the Civil Rights Act, the petitioner cited the Equal Access to Justice Act. Like Missouri v. Jenkins, this ruling solidified the right for paralegals to collect their fees at reimbursed market rates.

Both of these cases revealed the value of paralegal utilization among attorneys and their rights within the legal system.