What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts (Source: http://www.paralegals.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1).
The profession of paralegals vary wildly by states, as some states require a paralegal to be licenses. Often mistaken for a lawyer, a paralegal is not able to give legal advice, appear in court/ council, set fees, or sign court documents as it will be in violation of the unauthorized practice of law statutes in most of the States in the U.S. In the United States, lawyers originally utilized paralegals as their assistant during a time when lawyers only offered legal services.
Paralegal specific job requirements can vary depending on which area of law they are working in and how large the firm you are working for is. In a smaller firm, a paralegal may tend to a case from the beginning to end; in a larger firm, the paralegals’ duties may be to work on a particular phase of a case. Paralegals and legal assistants may work together in small or large firms with attorneys and other legal support staff.
What Type of Education Do You Need to Become a Paralegal?
While there are formal paralegal education programs that result in degrees exceeding a master’s degree, some paralegals have only on-the-job training to support their knowledge. Only a small number of accredited colleges and universities off degree seeking programs in paralegal studies. Previous work experience in an office (or preferably a law firm) will aid a potential candidate searching for employment opportunities.
Employers are looking specific qualities in a paralegal including communication, computer, interpersonal, organizational and research skills many qualities. Some employers may hire paralegals with limited experience and provide on the job training if this person has all of the qualities previously mentioned.
There are many continuing education courses (Continuing Legal Education) to assist in fulfilling various requirements assigned by their firm or association.In the United States, there are two large associations that offer these types of courses and certifications to paralegals: National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. A paralegal cannot be licensed through the government; however, they can be registered or certified. Both of the mentioned associations can offer professional certification exams but it should not be confused with the paralegal certificate that is earned through an accredited college or University.
7 Reasons to Become a Paralegal
- Faster than law school
- Profession Demand and Growth
- Flexibility within the Law Field
- The Chance to Help Others
- Paralegal Salary
- Your job will be fast-paced and exciting