Paralegals are law office professionals who assist lawyers in legal research and in the preparation of legal documents. They are often responsible for managing files, preparing discovery, researching legal questions, drafting documents, and keeping track of legal proceedings.
Paralegals are responsible for keeping up with the ever-changing laws that affect their practice area. They must be familiar with all the various forms of discovery, pleadings, motions, hearings, trials and appeals in their field.
Paralegals typically work under the supervision of a lawyer or an attorney. They also may have administrative duties such as answering phones or taking messages for their supervisor. Paralegals may work on a variety of cases ranging from simple to complex matters.
Paralegal Job Duties
Paralegals provide support to lawyers and help with legal research and writing. Typical duties include:
- Gathering relevant information for a case, including interviewing witnesses and drafting court documents
- Reviewing documents such as deeds or abstracts to identify key terms or issues
- Performing legal research regarding case law, statutes, regulations, and previous decisions on similar cases
- Drafting legal documents and pleadings, including depositions, subpoenas, motions, certifications, contracts, briefs, and complaints
- Scheduling appointments, making travel arrangements and handling other coordination for attorneys
- Writing contracts, letters, and other correspondence on behalf of clients or attorneys, as well as drafting commercial agreements
- Preparing for court hearings by compiling evidence and documentation in order to ensure a strong legal position for the client
Paralegal Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for paralegals is $51,166. Those earning higher wages tend to work for state and local government agencies, and the highest earners are bringing in more than $75,000 per year.
The employment of paralegals is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This growth will occur as the general population increases and individuals will need more legal services, which paralegals can provide. In addition, technological advances will allow paralegals to provide more services than they were able to in the past.
Paralegal Job Requirements
The education, training, and certification requirements for a paralegal are as follows:
Education: Most paralegals have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as business administration or criminal justice. This degree provides them with the necessary knowledge of business and law. There are also many associate degree programs available in paralegal studies, but they often do not lead to the same job opportunities as a bachelor’s degree.
Training: Most paralegals complete an internship with a law firm or legal organization before they begin working in the field full time. These internships allow paralegals to get experience working in a law office.
Certifications & Licenses: Certifications are not a requirement, however, many employers seek paralegal certifications on an applicant’s resume to assess their readiness for the job. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) awards the designation Certified Paralegal (CP) or Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) to paralegals who meet its requirements.
Not everyone is capable of being a paralegal. Some inherent skills and traits can make all the difference between success and burning out.
Organizational skills: Paralegals must possess excellent organizational skills to manage voluminous files and exhibits, which can number in the hundreds for a single case.
Communication skills: Paralegals must interact regularly with clients, experts, court personnel, and attorneys other than their employers.
Strong research and writing skills: These skills are necessary for drafting pleadings, research memorandums, correspondence, and other documents.
An ability to multitask: This is a deadline-heavy profession, and multiple cases can demand action within the same limited time periods. You might have to perform various tasks on more than one case file almost simultaneously, taking a phone call on one matter while sorting through trial exhibits on another.
Nerves of steel: An ability to handle pressure and looming deadlines can be crucial in some specialties that involve a great deal of litigation.
Paralegal Work Environment
Paralegals work in a variety of settings. They usually have an office, but they might also spend time working from home or traveling to visit clients. In some firms, paralegals may be required to stand for long periods and do a lot of bending, stooping, and lifting. The nature of their work can be stressful because the workload is heavy. Although most paralegals work full time, there are still opportunities for part-time work.
Paralegals may be required to travel frequently for conferences or meetings with clients. Many paralegals are employed by firms that offer flexible schedules. However, they must sometimes work evenings and weekends.
Paralegal Career Advancement
Paralegals with several years of experience can become team leads or managers of legal teams. These professionals are responsible for overseeing the work of several paralegals at once. They set goals, determine schedules, and stay on top of deadlines. You may need a college degree and additional certification to move up to this role.
Here are three trends influencing how Paralegals work. Paralegals will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Continued Increase in Immigration and Social Change
Immigration and social change will continue to be a key area of growth for paralegals as they assist immigrants and those seeking asylum with complex legal issues.
This includes helping immigrants and refugees settle into new communities, build new lives, and navigate the complexities of the legal system as they seek to gain citizenship or find relief from violence or persecution.
Virtual Law Practice
Virtual law practice refers to the practice of law by attorneys who do not have a brick-and-mortar office, but instead operate solely online.
Some virtual lawyers work out of home offices, while others use online services that provide them with all the tools they need to handle legal cases without the expense of a physical office.
The low overhead associated with this business model allows these attorneys to charge lower fees than their traditional counterparts, which makes it easier for clients on a budget to afford legal representation.
Greater Demands for Legal Research
In recent years, more companies have begun to use algorithms and artificial intelligence in their decision-making processes. While this has created a variety of new opportunities for paralegals, it has also made legal research more important than ever.
As algorithms and AI become more sophisticated, paralegals will need to know how to analyze data in order to understand what the algorithm is saying and explain that information to clients who may not be familiar with these technologies.
How to Become a Paralegal
1. Planning Your Career Path
A career as a paralegal requires more than just general clerical experience. A strong understanding of legal terminology and processes is essential for this position, so prospective paralegals should take courses in these areas while they are still in school.
A paralegal can work for any type of law firm, from small boutique firms to large corporate offices. Each environment has its own unique culture and set of expectations, so it’s important to find a job that aligns with your personality and professional goals. For example, if you enjoy working on multiple projects at once and feel energized by fast-paced environments, a busy corporate office may be the right fit for you. On the other hand, if you prefer fewer responsibilities and more freedom to pursue outside interests, a smaller firm may be a better option.
It’s important to remember that the position is one of support. Though you may have some specialized knowledge of your industry, you are not the primary expert.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for paralegals focus on three key skills: analytical ability, legal knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively. You should talk about how you demonstrated these skills in previous positions.
One way to do this is to use examples of specific tasks that you completed that helped your team. For example, if you wrote legal documents, highlight any notable cases that you worked on.
You should also be sure to talk about your involvement in teams and how you were able to make a positive impact on the group’s performance. Additionally, it’s important that you describe your ability to keep up with changes in the industry and stay on top of the latest legal news.
3. Applying for Jobs
As a paralegal, your job search should start with checking job postings at the American Bar Association and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. These resources will allow you to search for paralegal jobs by industry, location, and experience level.
To find out more about different companies, you can utilize LinkedIn and even create a profile on NFPLA’s job board to network with potential employers. By using your social networks and joining professional organizations, you’ll be able to learn about different opportunities and potentially develop contacts who can help you get hired.
It’s also helpful to keep up-to-date on the legal field, so subscribe to industry-related magazines and sign up for online news sources.
4. Ace the Interview
To succeed in an interview as a paralegal candidate, you must demonstrate your ability to handle stressful situations, communicate clearly, maintain a sense of professionalism at all times, and problem-solve on the spot. You will also need to demonstrate knowledge of the law and the ability to read and understand legal documents. Your interviewers will want to know that you are a good fit for their firm, so come prepared with questions that show an interest in the position and company.