Litigation, defined as any type of proceeding initiated by two opposing parties to enforce or defend a legal right, is a hot area of the law. Litigation is an area of the law paralegals can specialize in. According to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide, litigation is the area of the law expected to generate the greatest number of paralegal jobs within the next two years. This makes specializing in this area a smart choice for paralegals. In addition to great a job outlook, litigation also provides excitement and variety, especially when compared to other areas of the law.
The Role of Paralegals in the Litigation Process
During the litigation process, the parties involved may settle the out of court or the case may proceed to the courtroom where it will be heard by a judge or jury. Litigation is a multi-stage process. Because of this, the work of paralegals within this field is extremely valuable. Paralegals in this area will play role an active role before, during, and after a lawsuit.
The general job duties of paralegals who work in litigation include:
- Preparing, organizing, and filing documents and correspondence
- Conducting research, document searches, and other factual research
- Preparing witness and matter materials for case preparation
- Updating and maintaining internal databases
- Preparing for and attending depositions
- Organizing relevant documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Preparing and organizing exhibits during depositions
- Preparing and filing all court documents
The tasks a paralegal is assigned can vary greatly depending on the stage of the litigation process. Here are some of the tasks Litigation Paralegals are typically assigned during each step of the process:
- Pre-Suit Litigation – During this initial step, paralegals will be instructed by an attorney to complete a variety of activities, such as scheduling client meetings, maintaining communication with clients, composing and sending demand letters, and researching and collecting evidence for pre-suit investigations.
- Pre-Suit Negotiation –During this step, the attorney work in an effort to avoid a formal lawsuit. Paralegals will be tasked with sending and receiving correspondence regarding the demand letter, scheduling meetings between the opposing parties, and maintaining communication with the clients.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution – This is the second attempt to avoid a formal lawsuit. During this step, paralegals will be tasked with arranging meetings between the parties and an independent attorney or other mediator and composing and filing documentation, forms, and memos associated with arbitration.
- Pre-Suit Preparation – If remediation fails, paralegals will aid trial attorneys in defending the client in a court of law. Paralegals will be tasked with composing and filing all necessary paperwork with the courts and serving copies of the paperwork to the opposing party. In addition, paralegals play an important role in the discovery process, aiding with the preparation documents and evidence, submitting requests for admission of evidence, and preparing and sending depositions.
- Post-Trial Litigation –After the trial, disputes regarding a monetary award or the decision of the court often arise. Even in cases where both parties accept the court’s decision, there can be a number of motions, orders, and hearings that take place to close a case. Paralegals aid in this process by ensuring all necessary documentation has been completed, signed, and filed with the court.
Specialization Within the Field of Litigation
Just as paralegals can specialize in a specific area of the law, they can also specialize within that area.
Civil Litigation Paralegals
Paralegals in civil litigation will perform duties that are associated with tort (wrongful act) claims, breach of contract claims, equitable claims (taking or stopping some type of action), and landlord/tenant claims.
- Personal injury
- Employment law
- Construction litigation
- Homeowner liability
- Medical malpractice
- Real estate malpractice
Criminal Litigation Paralegals
Paralegals who specialize in criminal litigation are involved in cases that are associated with activities the government prohibits because it threatens and harms public safety. This includes crimes involving:
- Domestic violence
- Illegal drugs
- Assault and battery
- Child abuse
- Attempted murder
- Computer crime/identity theft
Education and Certification Options for Paralegal Jobs in Litigation
The first step in becoming a paralegal who works in the area of litigation is completing a paralegal educational program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA-approved programs in paralegal studies can range from certificate programs to associate degree programs to bachelor degree programs. There are even a few programs that exist at the master’s degree level. There are not state or federal regulations on paralegal training. However, a number of professional paralegal associations, like the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), recommends the completion of a program of at least 60 semester credits, which is the equivalent of an associate’s degree program. In addition, the AAfPE and NALA also recommends the completion of an internship that lasts at least six months. It is important to receive the right training before pursuing a career as a paralegal. ABA-approved paralegal programs will provide you with an overview of all areas of practice, while an internship will allow you to focus on a specific area of law, like litigation.
In addition to proper training and experience, you should consider paralegal certification. This is a voluntary option, but it has become commonplace because it demonstrates advanced competency in the profession.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers an advanced specialty certification in Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). To receive this specialty certification, candidates must complete three courses, with each course lasting 4 weeks:
- Advanced litigation
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Advanced tort law
NALA offers advanced certification courses in:
- Criminal Litigation
- Personal Injury – 8 practice course areas:
- Automobile accidents
- Entity medical liability
- Individual medical liability
- Intentional torts
- Premises liability
- Product liability
- Workers’ compensation
- Wrongful death
- Trial practice
Salary and Job Outlook for Litigation Paralegals
NALA’s 2014 national survey of paralegals revealed salaries by specialty of practice. Those in the following areas of litigation earned more than the national average for paralegals ($58,410):
- Multi-State Litigation: $59,426
- Product Liability: $59,248
- Mass Tort Litigation: $58,670
According to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide, jobs for paralegals within litigation is expected to generate the greatest number of paralegal jobs within the next two years.