What is a Paralegal?
Paralegals or legal assistants are the backbone of law firms and corporate legal offices; they practically perform a lawyer’s job – save for the handshaking with clients and the word-sparring in court. This article details a paralegal’s scope of work, compensation, and education and training options to start a career in the legal services.
Paralegal Job Description
Paralegal job duties include the following routine duties that are traditionally part of a lawyer’s responsibilities:
– Assist lawyers in preparing for trials, hearings, closings, corporate meetings, etc.;
– Check facts for verification and complete all necessary research work to ensure the correctness and accuracy of all data that lawyers use in their cases;
– Assist lawyers in preparing legal arguments, in drafting motions and pleadings, and in obtaining affidavits; – Assist lawyers in the actual court trials;
– And other administrative and clerical duties as seen fit by the employer. This may include coordination of the activities of law office employees, maintaining financial records, maintaining legal archives and records, preparing tax returns, etc.
Paralegals basically perform many of the duties of a lawyer, but with certain limitations. Paralegals are prohibited by law to perform any of the following:
– Dispense legal advice to clients;
– Appear in court in the capacity of a lawyer or present a case before the court;
– Set legal fees, etc.
Average paralegal salary is currently pegged at $46,120 per year, according to the Occupational Employment Statistics’ latest data, with the top earning legal assistants bagging as much as $73,450 annually. The differences in earnings is directly related to training and education, experience on the job, and the size and type of employer. Employment can be found in federal, state, and local government offices, as well as courts of law, and insurance companies; according to OES data, legal offices hire the most number of paralegals, owning 71% of the employment opportunities for trained paralegals.
Paralegal Training Options
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 260 American Bar Association (ABA)-approved programs for paralegal studies. If you are seriously considering a career in the paralegal, here are some options you can take to start on this path:
Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
Look for community colleges that offer paralegal programs which can be expanded into an associate degree given that you have completed all the necessary coursework for an associate degree certificate.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
You can take your associate degree a notch further by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. If you are a bachelor’s degree-holder in a different field and wish to jump overboard, you can sign up for graduate studies in paralegal studies.
On-the-job Paralegal Training
Yet another option is to look for a law firm that would hire to train their own paralegal. Make sure to take advantage of paralegal programs while you are on the job to ensure that your knife is sharp and you get to advance in this career.
To further advance your training, you can seek for paralegal certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Certified Paralegals or Certified Legal Assistants enjoy better employment opportunities and advancement in the paralegal career.