A paralegal works with an attorney, but what makes them different? What duties does a paralegal perform, and how do you become one? Here are some of the most important duties a paralegal would complete, and how to get a job working as one in a law office.
Paralegal Job Description: Day-to-Day
A paralegal’s duties are many, and include a diverse range of tasks from one day to the next. The main tasks a paralegal would work on include legal research for a trial, hearing, or closing that an attorney is working on. With their research skills and knowledge, paralegals help the attorney by finding relevant laws, drafting presentations, and observing interviews with the attorney’s clients. They might also conduct interviews of witnesses, and prepare memos and summaries of these meetings for the attorney. Paralegals are also tasked with drafting legal documents, such as deposition notices, legal briefs, pleas, complaints, subpoenas, pretrial orders, and more. A lot of work is done at a computer, so having strong typing skills and research skills is important for getting legal tasks done.
In addition, the paralegal is adept at office administration tasks, which are needed in order for the attorney to stay on-schedule for multiple cases and changes. From filing important documents to arranging travel plans, scheduling appointments and making phone calls, the paralegal helps the attorney keep track of important tasks for their individual cases and makes sure the office runs smoothly. Outside the office, the paralegal is often present at trials, depositions, and hearings, taking notes for the case. Overall, strong oral, written, research, and interpersonal skills are needed as a paralegal.
Paralegals are found across all types of industries, representing various clients. For example, a corporate company might keep a lawyer on retainer, which includes a paralegal working on the company’s cases. And depending on the size of the office or agency, and the specialization of the paralegal, one might only work on a part of the case, versus overseeing it from start to finish. From private to public, paralegals play an important part in the justice system.
Becoming a Paralegal
The requirements in becoming a paralegal will vary from state to state, but basic requirements include an associate’s degree or certificate in paralegal or law studies. If you have a bachelor’s degree but no prior experience in paralegal studies, some law firms will also still hire you for an entry-level position and then train on the job. Otherwise, some offices will hire paralegals without the requisite degrees and train on the job, but to increase your chances in getting hired (and increase your starting salary), it is a smart move to get an associate or certificate before applying.
Many potential paralegals also obtain knowledge of the profession through internships with a local law office, within or outside of a degree program. In addition to a general paralegal studies program, it’s also helpful to narrow down your interests in what type of law you want to work in, and take classes in that area. For example, if you are interested in working for a corporation’s legal team, knowledge about corporate law, business, and economics, can become a helpful tool in building your expertise. Other fields that paralegals can work in include criminal justice, estate or homeownership, bankruptcy, insurance, healthcare or medically-related fields, and more. The great diversity in law means a variety of fields that can meet your interests.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, the median average wage for paralegals was almost $47,000 in 2012, but for someone who is just starting, the average pay would be lower. Different starting pays are also expected depending on the state and the size of the firm.
To learn more about paralegals, or get advice in starting a paralegal studies program, contact us.