Paralegal/Legal Assistant Careers

Paralegals work for attorneys and give them assistance in the many facets of providing legal services. They have substantial knowledge of the legal system to include the procedural aspects of it. Their qualifications are gained through a combination of education and experience. Furthermore, there are many paths to entry into this field. Paralegals have many responsibilities and even though they are not attorneys, they are given many assignments that require a thorough knowledge of the law and legal procedure.

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At a Glance

Paralegal ProgramsOther Job Titles: Legal Assistant
Salary Range/Pay:[1]
$29,420-$36,460; Median $46,990
Education/Training Required:
Associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, certificate program, on-the-job training
Desired Skills/Aptitude:
skilled in writing, research, attention to detail, use of computers; communication skills; ability to organize; skilled in aspects of a typical office
Certification/Licensing:
Certified Paralegal (CP); Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)
Locations with Best Opportunities[2]:
California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois
Employment Outlook:
Expected growth 18% through 2020 (average growth)
Opportunities for Advancement:
Advancement to supervisory roles with experience

What a Paralegal Does

Paralegals assist attorneys in practically any area needed for the sound delivery of legal services. Some of the areas they assist in include:

  • Assisting attorneys during trial proceedings
  • Preparing drafts of legal documents
  • Maintaining case data and history in computer databases and paper files
  • Doing legal research to obtain the specifics of applicable statutes and regulations
  • Write reports or other documentation for attorneys as part of trial preparation
  • Obtain statements from parties involved in a case
  • Determine and compile the facts surrounding a case

They may want to specialize in certain areas of the legal field such as real estate, criminal, corporate, or family law. For example, in family law, they would become experts in compiling and drafting the documents specific to this area such as prenuptial agreements, divorces, and adoptions.

The Workplace

Most of the time, the workplace of a paralegal is in an office environment. If they must do legal research, they could also spend a good part of their day in a law library. They may also spend several days throughout the year in the courtroom during trial proceedings.

Paralegals have a higher level of responsibility compared to other office counterparts. This is because they must give direct assistance to attorneys and take care of matters that the latter cannot due to limited time. For example, attorneys in a busy law firm may not have time to interview all clients and witnesses in a case and will look to the paralegal to handle them.

Education and Certification

Some begin their path to becoming a paralegal by enrolling a two-year associate’s degree program at a local community college. There may also be schools that have four-year bachelor’s degree programs and in some cases even master’s degree programs. Another route to entry in this field is if you have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and complete a certificate program in paralegal studies that may last several months. Lastly, there are those who get hired with no experience and get all of their training on-the-job however this is rare today.

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is the organization that administers the Certified Paralegal Exam. Paralegals become Certified Paralegals (CP) after successfully passing the exam. Sometimes the designation is Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). To be eligible to sit for the exam one must have graduated from a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association or a post-secondary program that awards either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. Certification is voluntary but it helps to make a paralegal more marketable and opens opportunities for greater responsibility and pay commensurate with it.

 


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm

 [2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm