A paralegal is a trained professional who works for attorneys or law firms and assists lawyers in many of their daily tasks. Paralegals do much of the same work as lawyers with much less education and for less money, yet most paralegals find their work very rewarding. Here is an overview of paralegals, including how to become one and what they can expect in terms of career outlook.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals work with legal assistants and perform various duties to support lawyers in the course of their day. They conduct legal research; maintain and organize files; gather evidence for case preparation; write and summarize reports for trials; file appeals, briefs and other legal paperwork with the court system; draft correspondence, and call lawyers, witnesses and clients to schedule meetings or depositions.
Their knowledge of computers and computer software help them in organizing and managing the many documents necessary for a case. They also use this software for research and to catalog evidence. Paralegals spend a lot of their day performing electronic database management, which includes organizing and sending data, documents, emails.
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How to Become a Paralegal
There are a few different paths towards this career. Generally, these include earning a degree and completing a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association. The most common path is earning an associate degree in paralegal studies, which is a two-year program. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree may complete a paralegal certificate program.
This is done because there aren’t that many schools that offer bachelor’s degree programs for aspiring paralegals. Sometimes, attorneys may hire college students or graduates and train them on the job, but a degree is the most common path for aspiring paralegals. Students in a paralegal program make take the following courses.
• Legal research
• Civil litigation
• Family law
• Business law
• Written communication
• Paralegal studies
• Real estate laws
In addition to completing coursework, paralegal students are generally require to also complete internships in law firms to obtain hands-on training.
Although paralegals are not required to obtain certification, they can choose to do so to improve their career options. Some attorney or law firms may prefer to hire paralegals who have certification. Below are three organizations that offer national certification for paralegals.
• National Association of Legal Assistants
• National Federation of Paralegal Associations
• National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
Career Outlook & Wage Potential
Paralegals have a very good career outlook and continue to be in demand as lawyers try to increase efficiency and see more clients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that paralegals can expect a job growth of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. As of a May 2017 BLS report, paralegals nationwide earned a median annual salary of $50,410 with wages ranging from $31,130 to more than $81,180.
U.S. News & World Report ranks paralegals seventh among best social services jobs and 86th among the best 100 jobs. Below are the best paying states for paralegals as reported by USNWR.
• District of Columbia
• New York
Many paralegals choose to advance their education and enroll in law school. Their knowledge from working as a paralegal acts as a definite advantage.