What Paralegals Need to Know About the Freedom of Information Act?

The Paralegal Resource
March 21, 2014 — 2,636 views  
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The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA gives individuals a right to gain access to federal agency records, except those records or parts of them that are protected from being disclosed to the public. A paralegal or a legal assistant can make a FOIA request for any agency record, but only federal agencies come under FOIA. The government agencies that are covered under FOIA departments include the Defense Department or Budget and Management office. Other regulatory agencies like Nuclear Regulatory Commission or EPA are also covered under FOIA.

Getting the Documents

If as a paralegal, you should need documents that are covered by FOIA as part of your work, you could get in touch with the specific agency to see if they have a form for making the request. If there is no such form, then, you may have to write to the officer in the agency involved, with particulars of the information you seek from the agency. If the agency were to deny the disclosure request, you should also seek in the letter details of why and under what legal provisions is that disclosure not made to you. You would also need to seek information from the agency on what the fee for the disclosure under FOIA will be.

Request for admission

Paralegals use requests for admission as a tool to gain access to some information that is useful for a particular lawsuit, and these requests are carried out before a trial. Discovery and Freedom of Information Act are not the same, but two separate methods to gain information from the federal agencies. Discovery is a means used by parties involved in a lawsuit to gather information from an opposition party in connection with a case. However, the Freedom of Information Act offers general access rights to records and can be anyone.

The Freedom of Information Act has several exemptions, one of which is the attorney work-product, where documents which have been created by attorneys are protected. The FOIA does not increase discovery rights, and is not aimed at benefiting an individual private litigant.

What kind of information can a paralegal access?

A paralegal is allowed to go through all hearings and trials at all levels – Supreme Court, state and municipal rulings, apart from government records that are accessible under the Freedom of Information Act. There is also the discovery method to gather information before a trial starts. Any information that is not privileged matter or classified information can be accessed by paralegals, so that they can create a report which has evidence, prior rulings and other details relevant to a lawsuit.  

The Paralegal Resource