Paralegals work to make lawyers effective in doing their job of representing clients in court. They do most of the legal research and equip lawyers with the facts they need to know to competently argue cases in court. If you are good at acquiring information, and you are interested in pursuing a legal career, this could be the profession you need to chase.
1. What Do Paralegals Do?
Their work involves:
- Performing legal research – This involves acquiring information from various sources, including the constitution, law books and journals
- Analyzing the researched information and compiling a report for the lawyer
- Interviewing lawyers’ clients to gather more information about their legal problems
- Drafting legal documents such as interrogatories, deposition notices and legal briefs
- Filing cases with the court
- Handling a range of law office administrative tasks, including filing and organizing documents, scheduling client interviews and answering telephone calls
- Accompanying lawyers to court trials, real estate title closings, tribunals, and other legal events
Although most of the duties paralegals do may overlap with those of legal secretaries, it is important to note that paralegals have more legal training. Unlike the secretaries, paralegals often work under little supervision.
Also, paralegals can choose to specialize in types of law such as corporate or criminal law.
2. Work Environment
Paralegals work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. They typically work in an office environment researching, preparing documents, and interviewing clients.
Since paralegals join lawyers in court trials and other events, you can expect to hit the road regularly.
According to PayScale, paralegals earn an average annual salary of $43,679.
4. Entry Requirements
Although some institutions offer paralegal certificates, the best way to prepare yourself for this job is to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Unlike a certificate program, an associate’s degree offers an in-depth training in several legal areas, including:
- Family law
- American government
- Criminal law and procedures
- Advanced research and writing
- Corporate and business law
- Civil procedures
Some of the colleges offering this degree include:
5. Important Qualities
To be an effective paralegal, you need:
- Exceptional research skills
- Skills in information analysis
- Strong interviewing skills
- Strong speaking and writing skills
- Strong decision-making skills
- A high level of attention to detail
- The ability to follow instructions closely
- Good teamwork skills
- Good computer and Internet skills
- Good organizational skills
- Skills in time management
- Good interpersonal skills
- The ability to keep information confidential
6. Career Advancement
Once you get a job, embark on improving your competence. The legal field is vast, and the more legal knowledge you have, the stronger your advancement prospects.
The National Association for Legal Assistants offers the Certified Paralegal credential, which you should obtain to demonstrate your competence to employers. You can also pursue a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Many states also have regional associations for paralegals (such as the Paralegal Association of Florida), which you can join to automatically qualify for membership in the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
The NFPA offers continuing education opportunities and you will also have access to industry publications. If your state doesn’t have a local association for paralegals, then you can apply to the NFPA for individual membership.
7. Job Opportunities
The employers of paralegals include:
- Law firms
- Private companies
- Local authorities
- Government agencies
With several years of experience as a paralegal, you can advance to become a lead paralegal. This position involves supervising and allocating tasks to other paralegals in large law firms.
Many paralegals use the profession as a springboard to practicing law. If this is your ambition, pursue a bachelor’s degree in law and meet state licensing requirements.
See Also: Top 10 Reasons to Become a Lawyer
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment of paralegals will increase by 17 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the 11 percent average for all occupations.
There you have it! The paralegal profession is thriving, and your job now is to obtain the necessary credentials.