Paralegal Jobs

Benefits Of Being A Paralegal

PARALEGAL JOB DESCRIPTION

Paralegals perform legal­, regulatory­ and business­related research for lawyers working at their organization. Most of the time paralegals work for law offices, corporations’ legal departments or courts. These professionals also provide legal support services to attorneys. They assist lawyers in filing materials such as motions, memoranda, pleadings and briefs in various court systems, as well as accompany lawyers to see clients and/or to go to court.  Paralegals may have to interview clients either by phone or in person prior to referring them to their organization’s lawyers; they may have the authority to accept or reject potential clients. Paralegals also edit pleadings, technical papers, briefs and other documents, helping review legal documents to make sure that relevant facts are included. They may have to travel to various courts to accompany their organization’s lawyers, and they may have to train and coach new or more junior paralegals. 

Paralegals may have to interview clients either by phone or in person prior to referring them to their organization’s lawyers; they may have the authority to accept or reject potential clients. Paralegals also edit pleadings, technical papers, briefs and other documents, helping review legal documents to make sure that relevant facts are included. They may have to travel to various courts to accompany their organization’s lawyers, and they may have to train and coach new or more junior paralegals. 

An associate’s degree or certificate in paralegal studies is generally needed in this position; some employers require that paralegals have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Previous experience as a paralegal is often required or preferred as well. Paralegals should have excellent written and oral communication skills, know relevant legal terminology and principles, be able to work in a team environment and be proficient with basic computer programs such as the Microsoft Office suite. Additionally, they must be knowledgeable about legal citation rules, legal libraries, various court systems’ rules and relevant filing requirements. 

  • Summary
  • What They Do
  • How to Become One
  • Pay
  • Job Outlook

Quick Facts: Paralegals and Legal Assistants

2017 Median Pay - $50,410 per year ; $24.24 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education - Associate's degree

Work Experience in a Related Occupation - None

On-the-job Training - None

Number of Jobs, 2016 - 285,600

Job Outlook, 2016-26 - 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change, 2016-26 - 41,800

What Paralegals and Legal Assistants Do

Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

How to Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Most paralegals and legal assistants have at least an associate’s degree or a certificate in paralegal studies. In some cases, employers may hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree but no legal experience or specialized education and train them on the job.

Pay

The median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $50,410 in May 2017.

Job Outlook

Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.

Professional Associates

Learn more about paralegals and legal assistants by visiting additional resources.

Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Duties

Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:

  • Investigate and gather the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
  • Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
  • Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites. Paralegals’ specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work. The following are examples of types of paralegals and legal assistants:

Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies’ annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.

Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.

Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.

In small firms, paralegals’ duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court. In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.

Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal’s work is often billed to the client. Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.

How to Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Education

There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. A common path is for candidates to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a post-secondary institution. However, many employers may prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, applicants will typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.

Associate’s and bachelor's degree programs in legal or paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees. Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program. Some national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.

Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.

Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.

Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.

Research skills. Paralegals gather facts of the case and research information on relevant laws and regulations to prepare drafts of legal documents for attorneys and help them prepare for a case.

The median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $50,410 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,180.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for paralegals and legal assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government$65,970
Finance and insurance60,730
Local government, excluding education and hospitals49,600
Legal services48,380
State government, excluding education and hospitals46,240

Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time. Some may work more than 40 hours per week in order to meet deadlines.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Median annual wages, May 2017

  • Legal support workers -  $50,630
  • Paralegals and legal assistants - $50,410 
  • Total, all occupations - $37,690

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

As law firms try to increase the efficiency of legal services and reduce their costs, they are expected to hire more paralegals and legal assistants. In these cases, paralegals and legal assistants can take on a “hybrid” role within the firm, performing not only traditional paralegal duties but also some of the tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries or other legal support workers.

Law firms also are attempting to reduce billing costs as clients push for less expensive legal services. Due to their lower billing rates to clients, paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers, performing a wide variety of tasks once done by entry-level lawyers. This should cause an increase in demand for paralegals and legal assistants.

Although law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments to cut costs. For many companies, the high cost of outside counsel makes it more economical to have an in-house legal department. This will lead to an increase in the demand for legal workers in a variety of settings, such as finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.

Job Prospects

Due to the rise of electronic discovery, formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

  • Paralegals and legal assistants - 15%
  • Legal support workers - 11%
  • Total, all occupations - 7%

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

Courtesy: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

FREE PARALEGAL CERTIFICATE COURSE

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*Membership and registration fees are non-refundable.

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  • REGISTRATION FEE

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  • INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIP & REGISTRATION FEE

UPCOMING PARALEGAL CLASSES

Upcoming Paralegal Classes

LIST OF MANDATORY COURSES

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Introduction to Real Estate Transactions

Introduction to Immigration: How to Get a Green Card

Introduction to Copyright & Trademark Law

Introduction to Criminal Law

Introduction to Landlord & Tenant Law

Introduction to Personal Injury Law

Introduction to Non-Profits and more...

CHOOSE A MINIMUM OF 3 OF THE FOLLOWING ELECTIVES

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Introduction to Legal Research & Writing (Part 1 & 2)

Immigration Law & Civil Rights

Small Business Boot Camp Seminar Series (From Worker to Business Owner)

Introduction to CLIO (Case Management & Tools)

The Reluctant Rainmaker

Civil Rights Advocacy Training – The New Jim Crow

Wills & Estate Planning

Introduction to Bankruptcy Law

Introduction to Matrimonial Law

Introduction to Taxation

Introduction to Workers' Comp

Introduction to International Trade & Global Business

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