A DWI paralegal is a paralegal involved in the criminal defense of individuals accused of or charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), also known as driving under the influence (DUI).
A DWI paralegal assists lawyers hired by individuals needing to overcome DWI related offenses and charges. Paralegals work closely with defense attorneys, those within the field of criminal law. Many law firms have specialized in working with DWI offenders exclusively, as there are so many of those cases each year. So, a DWI paralegal may only work within an environment of DWI cases, or they may have other non-DWI case work.
Paralegals provide critical services to attorneys. They act as assistants to the attorney in may regards, learning much about the lawyer’s field of specialization and providing research for cases. There are other associated administrative tasks as part of the job, as well.
Duties of the DWI Paralegal
As previously mentioned, DWI paralegals may work exclusively on DWI cases or they may have other types of legal work to perform, such as within criminal defense. In general, DWI paralegals work with criminal lawyers and are primarily focused upon criminal law. If only focused upon DWI relative cases, the DWI paralegal’s focus is on an even more narrow realm of the law.
Subject Matter Expertise
The more specialized the focus of a paralegal’s law firm of employment, the thoroughly known the DWI realm of the law should be understood. In addition, the more focused a paralegal’s work is, the more specialized his or her experience becomes. This results in the paralegal’s own marketability and value within his or her field, improving salary and potential for success within that area of specialization. In essence, the DWI paralegal becomes a subject matter expert within DWI defense.
General Assistance to Attorneys
Paralegals provide research assistance for attorneys. They also answer telephone calls and provide administrative assistance in completion of paperwork. DWI paralegals may even conduct the majority of pre-hearing or pretrial investigation for their cases.
DWI Case Work
A DWI defense paralegal may conduct interviews of the offender and any witnesses. He or she will take statements, compile evidence and case documents, create case files and organize all facts and materials into a comprehensive timeline of events. If a DWI paralegal is involved in prosecution of DWI cases resulting in personal injury or property damage, that paralegal will conduct such interviews and provide the same type of services for the prosecution.
As part of a prosecution case, such as one involving personal injury or property damage resulting from a DWI offender’s actions, the paralegal may draft pleadings such as the summons, complaint and associated affidavits.
If the paralegal is working on the side of the DWI defense, their duties may include investigation of the allegations against the accused offender and development of responses to those allegations, summons and other court actions of a DWI case. There may be pleading indexes to create and maintain, calendaring of hearing dates to adhere to and update, and filing deadlines to meet.
Discovery Phase Work
Discovery can occupy much of the time of a paralegal career. This is the phase wherein the DWI paralegal may aid lawyers in drafting of interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions and other discovery actions.
DWI paralegals working for the defense may seek out experts or others to aid in development of interrogatory responses and toward formulation of answers to other discovery requests.
The discovery phase also involves legal research, analysis of issues and writing of memos based upon associated legal and case research. Factual research is a heavy part of a DWI paralegal’s work load. To be successful, a good paralegal will need to be able to assess needed information and where to gather those details, often involving outside resources and experts such as newspapers, databanks, police agencies, statisticians, fire departments, the media and trade associations. Of course, the internet plays a large role in paralegal research.
Within discovery, the paralegal will create and manage indexes of all details and files. They organize case files which can become quite large and detailed. Paralegals ensure calendars are maintained, organize and analyze materials, prepare deposition summaries, gain and provide summation of medical files and conduct other organizational and research tasks.
A DWI paralegal provides much needed communication and organization services before trial. They organize exhibits for trial and index them for seamless reference and court acceptance. The paralegal prepares trial binders, manages large files and coordinate trial logistics, such as any associated travel, lodging, conference room or office space. DWI trial paralegals act in a liaison capacity between attorneys, witnesses, clients, experts and court associated personnel.
If a DWI case is going to trial, the DWI paralegal becomes one of the legal team’s most critical members. The paralegal goes to court with attorneys each day and ensures everything is ready and fully accessible for trial use. Paralegals prepare exhibits, evidence and documents for lawyer reference and use in court, even ensuring that the materials and documents are transported to the courtroom and set up before case particulars arrive.
The paralegal will prepare and issue subpoenas for witnesses, prepares those witness with lawyers, and acts as a trial liaison between the legal team and all other case parties.
For jury trials, paralegals aid in research and analysis of potential jurors, then assisting the legal team with voir dire and selection of the jury. He or she will then observe the jury during hearings, help prepare jury instructions and conducts post-trial juror interviews.
As the case is heard, DWI paralegals will handle exhibits. They pull documents and take notes for the legal team, prepare witnesses and associated files, and interact on the attorney’s behalf with case parties and court personnel.
Duties During Settlement
If a DWI case goes to a settlement, DWI paralegals will assist lawyers in information gathering, organization and review. They will create settlement brochures, negotiations checklists and distribution statements. Attorneys often rely upon paralegals to write settlement agreements and releases, as well as to assist the legal team at pretrial conferences.
When DWI Offender is Guilty
If a DWI client is found guilty of offenses related to the act of driving while intoxicated, paralegals may work with attorneys to prepare an appeal. The first step of that process is to identify issues which make the case appropriate for an appeal, gathering of evidence and documents to support that appeal and organization of items into a joint appendix or appeal case file. The paralegal will build a table of authorities, assist in research, help write appellate communications and file court documents.
Work Environment for a DWI Paralegal
A DWI paralegal will work within varied environments as part of his or her paralegal career. While most work is conducted within court rooms, libraries, law offices and typically climate controlled environments, some DWI case research may be outside at the scene of the DWI offense or an associated accidents. This scene research may involve inclement weather or harsh conditions and exposure to the elements, although briefly.
A standard 40 hour work week is the objective of law offices. However, there may be extensive overtime work during periods of case preparation or in the event of a surge of cases at the law firm. Courts are closed during most standard holidays and for all federal observations, so paralegals are generally off from work for those days, too.
Paralegal Degree Programs and Certifications
A DWI paralegal does not need to have a college degree in order to perform well within the field. However, a college degree provides competitive advantage to a potential paralegal. Having that degree not only shows a higher level of education, but indicates the paralegal candidate possesses self-discipline, research skills and other talents associated with adequate performance within a law firm.
Many colleges do offer paralegal certification courses of study. Those classes are available both online and through formal classroom study. Associate’s degree programs in paralegal studies are also available. Many successful paralegals do not hold a degree and most would likely advise that a potential paralegal should not invest more in educational pursuit than the job will repay within a reasonable period of time, or that a starting paralegal will not be able to afford in educational loan payment installments.
Standards toward paralegal training and certification vary from state to state. Many law firms do not even require formal paralegal certification, if their state does not require such. They often opt to train high school diplomates or college graduates in paralegal work within the job, itself.
If education is the preferred path for greater marketability and competitive edge in the field, a DWI paralegal education may consist of formal training from a college or technical school. Some of these certification programs offer study with a focus upon certain areas of law. Most are more general toward expanded job opportunity for a beginning paralegal. Some state law boards allow specialized certification such as civil or criminal, toward their official certification.
When seeking a paralegal education, look for one listed by the American Association for Paralegal Education, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals or other professional association. Practical work experience is part of any good paralegal education program.