How To Become A Paralegal
Paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys manage their caseloads and provide administrative support. There are a few different types of paralegals but two common ones are corporate paralegals that primarily work with corporate attorneys on business-related legal matters and litigation paralegals that work with lawyers on court cases.
The duties of paralegals and legal assistants vary depending on the size of the firm they work for. Paralegals in smaller firms tend to have more responsibility than those employed at larger ones. Here are some of the general duties a paralegal or legal assistant is expected to do:
- Research laws and regulations relevant to the case
- Obtain and organize information relevant to the case
- Conduct an investigation into the claims and facts of legal cases
- Create presentations or write reports regarding information pertaining to the case
- Write correspondence or draft contracts
- Assist attorneys during the actual trial
- Obtain witness statements and affidavits to present in court
In smaller firms, paralegals are typically involved in a case from start to finish. They prepare legal arguments, draft documents, and do other tasks involved in presenting the case to the court. In larger firms, however, a paralegal may have a specific task that they do for all cases the firm is handling. For example, their job may be to create reference files or collect evidence.
Paralegals and legal assistants can specialize in particular types of law such as personal injury, criminal law, bankruptcy, or real estate. People who have been in the industry for several years typically end up in supervisory positions where they manage a team of paralegals or legal assistants.
How long It Takes To Become A Paralegal
Employers prefer to hire people with degrees from accredited programs, but it doesn’t have to be in paralegal studies. Some employers hire people with bachelor’s degrees in subjects that provide some insight into particular areas such as education or real estate. In cases like this, the person would receive on-the-job training to be a paralegal or legal assistant.
However, how long it take to become a paralegal depends whether you’re earning a degree or certificate. You can earn a certificate or associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a community college or technical school which takes 1 to 2 years to complete. There are a few colleges that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies that can take 4 to 5 years to earn. The types of courses you can expect to take include legal research, business writing, criminal law, and ethics.
Although certification is not required to get a job as a paralegal or legal assistant, earning a voluntary credential can make you stand out among the competition. There are several organizations that offer paralegal or legal assistant credentials such as NALA. They offer Certified Legal Assistant and Certified Paralegal programs. Becoming certified may also make it easier to advance in the field.
Technology skills: A computer will be an important tool in your job. You will conduct research, create reports, store information, and organize important documents using one. You must be comfortable using computers and have some basic skills.
Interpersonal skills: A large part of your job will be dealing with people from coworkers to clients to judges. You must be calm, patient and professional when interacting with them.
Research and organization skills: Paralegals investigate the evidence in a case and, thus, must be able to conduct research, analyze information, and draw conclusions. They also handle multitudes of documents and electronic recordings and need to be organized enough to access the information when it is called for.
Writing and speaking skills: Although paralegals don’t argue in court, they must still present the information to the practicing attorney in a way that is easy to understand and act upon.
Paralegal Job Description
Paralegals and legal assistants are employed by a variety of organizations but the vast majority of them (about 70%) are hired by those that offer legal services. Other employers include state, federal and local government agencies, finance companies, and insurance companies. Typically, paralegals work in offices and law libraries but some travel may be required depending on the job duties.
Most work full time in permanent positions. However, some work part time and some are hired on a temporary basis if the firm needs additional staff during a busy season. Evening, weekend, and overtime hours may be required.
The average pay for this occupation is $46,680. The top and bottom 10% of the wage scale is $74,870 and $29,460 respectively. The biggest factor in the amount of pay was the size of the firm. Larger law firms paid paralegals more than smaller ones. You are also more likely to be paid more if you live in a large city. Paid time off, health insurance and other perks like use of a company vehicle may be provided to the employee.
Approximately 256,000 people were employed as paralegals and law assistants in 2010, and that number is expected to grow 18% by 2020. Unlike other legal professions, paralegal work cannot be easily off-shored because many of the duties must be performed in real time and in person. Although the legal profession will experience slow growth overall, law offices are cutting costs by shifting more work onto paralegals. People with formal training and certification have the best job prospects.