What is a Paralegal?
The term “Paralegal” is used to refer to a person who is employed or contracted by an attorney, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity to perform substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an attorney.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals take on many tasks in their roles, providing valuable support to attorneys, law firms, corporations, governmental agencies, or other entities. Paralegals perform an array of legal tasks including, but not limited to:
- Case planning
- Legal research
- Interviewing clients
- Fact gathering
- Retrieving information
- Drafting and analyzing legal documents
- Collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an informed decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney.
While there are many things a paralegal can do, it is important to note that paralegals are not educated or licensed to provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.
Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most tend to work for law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies. This type of position is typically full time, though be prepared to work more than 40 hours a week in some cases to meet deadlines.
What is the Current Outlook for This Field?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for paralegals in the U.S. is $48,810 per year or $23.47 per hour (Source: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm).
In addition, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024. This is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Because of a good median salary and projected job growth, this occupation will many applicants, causing competition for jobs to be strong. Those who are experienced and formally trained with strong computer and database management skills will have the best job prospects in the current and future market.
What Type of Education is Needed to Become a Paralegal?
Most paralegals earn an associate’s degree and/or a certificate in paralegal studies. The American Bar Association (ABA) accredits some paralegal programs, which are specifically designed to prepare students to work as paralegals. Programs like this strive to prepare students to be the most professional and marketable paralegals in the field. After completing a program like this, students will be able to:
- Make ethical decisions in the workplace
- Understand legal concepts
- Draft legal documents
- Communicate effectively, both orally and in writing
- Be proficient in using legal technology
- Exhibit critical thinking skills
In some cases, employers choose to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, even if they have no legal experience or specialized education, then train them on the job.
Even though paralegals do not go to law school, successful people in this type of position often possess many of the same skills as attorneys. Paralegals are the people who do the prep and grunt work behind the scenes, which leads to them learning all about the different cases and approaches taken by the attorneys. Skills needed to be a successful as a paralegal include, but are not limited to:
- Communication – As a paralegal, there is a good chance you will be asked to interview clients, contact people for research, write statements for witnesses, and schedule court appointments. Because most of your duties will include talking and communicating with others, it is important to have good communication skills.
- Writing – Most paralegals are tasked with drafting pleadings, documents, and briefs. This type of work can be both straightforward and complicated. Because writing, and doing it well, is an integral part of being a paralegal, it is important to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Research – As a paralegal, you may be called upon to conduct research for an attorney. Paralegals must know how to track down records and use investigative skills to find the information their attorney needs.
- Technology – To properly conduct research and perform other tasks, like drafting legal documents, paralegals need to know how to use a variety of technology, including computers and the Internet.
- Teamwork – While you may be assigned your own tasks, paralegals do not always work alone. In fact, paralegals are often called to collaborate with a larger legal team, like associates, co- workers, legal secretaries, and partners. It is important to know that when working with a diverse group of people, you will work with people who have more and less experience than a you. As a paralegal, you will need to be able to work well with others, including with those who know more or less about law than you.
- Organization – Some tasks performed by paralegals fall under the administrative heading. Part of this job includes staying organized and providing your attorney with whatever it is he or she needs. To perform this task well, you must be organized.
- Professionalism – Keep in mind that when you are speaking to others in a professional capacity, you are representing your attorney and boss. If you do not act in a professional manner, he or she will look bad and it is not likely you will keep your job for long.
- Critical Thinking – One of the most important skills a paralegal can possess is the ability to think critically and analytically. Critical thinking skills provide you with the ability to infer information from materials you review. This means that as you conduct research you are able to discover helpful leads from the clues you uncover to follow up with meaningfully research.
Because a paralegal performs many tasks normally handled by an attorney, such as preparing legal forms, interviewing clients and witnesses, conducting legal research and document organization, it is imperative that you have the right training.
The experts at Be a Paralegal have compiled the most current and useful information to help you learn more about what it takes to become a paralegal and perform your job well. If you are interested in the paralegal field, be sure to check out the other informative pages on the “Be a Paralegal” website!