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Training paralegals

Paralegals may receive on-the-job training at non-profits, law firms, or corporations, but are sometimes required to have some type of certification from an accredited paralegal programme. Many schools exist to train paralegals, as do online certificate programmes. It is important to research programmes carefully in each country to find ones that are reputable and reasonably-priced.

Paralegals must have a variety of skills, including legal skills such as drafting documents and taking statements; administrative skills such as record-keeping, filing, and computer skills; and “people” skills such as interviewing clients, counseling, and education.

Benin – Training paralegals to improve women’s access to justice under new family code

In Benin, a new family code was adopted in 2004. Well-respected paralegals already existed in communities and they were tapped as an effective way to convey information on women’s rights under the new code to illiterate, rural, and poor women. The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative programme of USAID adopted these strategies to train the paralegals:

  • Local NGO partners received technical and financial assistance to develop and provide paralegal training on women’s legal rights in general and on the new family code.
  •  The NGOs created a paralegal training manual together to ensure consistency.
  • Paralegals made a commitment to educate their communities and to act as resources in order to attend the week-long training.
  • Training was prioritized in rural areas.
  • Additional classes were held for new paralegals on their role, the organization of the justice sector, and communications techniques.
  • Role-plays enabled new paralegals to practice common scenarios with clients.
  • Continuing education was made available to experienced paralegals on new requirements of the family code regarding child marriage, polygamy, and inheritance rights.
  • A public awareness campaign on women’s legal rights was held in the same geographic area as the trainings so that women could discuss topical matters with the paralegals.

The Benin Family Code Paralegal Manual (The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative, 2005). English.

For similar paralegal manuals developed under this programme, see Guatemala and Lesotho.

 

Source: USAID. 2007. The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative.

 

Lesotho – Training paralegals raise rural women’s awareness of legal reforms

Lesotho has enacted laws which better protect women’s rights. For example, the Sexual Offences Act (2003) expanded victim’s rights in important ways, such as requiring the government to pay for medical examinations after assaults, requiring the prosecutor to orient the survivor to court procedures, and allowing survivor input into decisions on bail. In 2006, the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act was enacted, which allows married women to own and inherit property, receive loans, and hold a job without her husband’s permission.

Project: The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative of USAID partnered with the Lesotho affiliate of the Federación Internacional de Abogadas (FIDA) to raise awareness of these legal reforms and advocacy programmes by training paralegals in rural areas.

 Strategies included:

  • Requesting local government and community leaders to nominate people to be trained.
    • Screening nominees for suitability and reliability.
    • Selecting influential members of the community as trainees (70% were women).
    • Selecting trainees to ensure geographical and occupational representation.
    • Training participants on laws which affect most people such as inheritance laws, rights of women in traditional marriages and common law marriages, and dissolution of property in divorce.
    • Training participants on paralegal skills such as identifying legal issues and taking statements.
    • Training participants to alert FIDA about cases which could be used for high impact litigation.
    • Forming paralegal committees to work with FIDA on ongoing challenges faced by paralegals and to collect evaluation data.
      *Requiring paralegals to submit reports and action plans for all cases to FIDA.
    • Making field visits to gain information from focus groups in communities served by the paralegals.

See the paralegal manual used in Lesotho.

Source: USAID. 2007. The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative.

Tools for Training Paralegals:

For information on paralegal training programmes worldwide, click here.

Community Based Paralegals: A Practitioner’s Guide (Open Society Justice Initiative, 2010). English.

Community Paralegal Training Programme brochure (Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team) English.

Paralegal Training Manual (Federation of Women’s Lawyers- Lesotho in collaboration with the Community Legal Resource Centre, 2000). English.

For a video entitled “Is a Paralegal Career Right For You?”. See a video. Available in English.

See also a video entitled “A Little about Paralegal Careers”. Available in English.

Starter Kit for Setting Up a Legal Assistant (Paralegal) Programme (The International Paralegal Management Association, 1991). English.