Paralegals are trained professionals who assist lawyers with many of their legal duties. Paralegals have become a very important part of a legal firm because the work they free up the attorney’s time and allow them to work more efficiently and see more clients in a day. Paralegals usually complete a formal training program before they begin working for lawyers. They must possess good communication, interpersonal, organizational and research skills as well as the ability to multi-task. Here is an overview of paralegals, including what they do, how to become one and career outlook.
What Do Paralegals Do?
Paralegals perform many duties throughout their workday, including drafting documents, summarizing and writing reports, maintaining documents in electronic filing systems, getting formal statements for court, filing court cases, and accompanying lawyers in the courtroom for court cases. Other duties the paralegal performs include:
- Organizing documents
- Investigating facts for a case
- Taking notes, handling exhibits and reviewing court transcripts
- Calling witnesses, clients, vendors and lawyers to schedule meetings, interviews and depositions
- Gathering and arranging evidence for case preparation
- Drafting legal documents and correspondence, such as mortgages and contracts
- Filing briefs, exhibits and appeals
The duties of paralegals will vary by the law firm in which they work. Generally, paralegals are either corporate paralegals or litigation paralegals. In many law firms, the paralegal is the backbone of the law firm because of the many things they do for the attorneys. According to the American Bar Association, the three things that paralegals cannot do are:
- Establish the lawyer’s relationship with a client
- Set the fees that will be charged
- Give legal advice to clients
How to Become a Paralegal
The first step towards a career as a paralegal is to complete a training program. This is usually done by completing a two-year associate degree in paralegal studies. An individual with a bachelor’s degree in a different major might become a paralegal by completing a certificate program in paralegal studies.
The program should be accredited or approved by the American Bar Association. The student will complete courses in legal writing, corporate law, legal applications of computers, wills and probates, international law and legal research. They must also complete an internship at a law firm or under the supervision of an attorney.
Paralegals are not required to be certified, but many employers require or request their paralegals to obtain certification. Some paralegals choose to obtain voluntary certification to enhance their resume and improve their career opportunities. Certification can be obtained through organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the Association for Legal Professionals.
Paralegals and legal assistants are very much in demand today and should experience a 12 percent job growth between 2018 and 2028 based on a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. As of May 2018, paralegal wages ranged from $31,400 to $82,050 annually with the average wage at $54,500. The average hourly wage, according to the BLS, was $26.20.
Related Resource: 15 Affordable Online Associate’s Degrees in Paralegal Studies
Working as a paralegal can be exciting, challenging and extremely rewarding, especially if the paralegal’s work helps a defendant. Many paralegals enjoy the legal profession so much that they choose to advance their education and go to law school to become lawyers.