Paralegal Job Overview

Career Profile of a Paralegal

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Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, are individuals who are trained to assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. They work in law firms, corporations, the government and other practice environments and must operate under the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals can't give legal advice. They can't represent a client in court, establish legal fees or sign documents that will be filed with the court.

Paralegal Job Duties

Paralegals assist attorneys in resolving lawsuits, and as such, their duties are diverse. They might investigate the facts of a case, interview clients and witnesses, perform legal research, and draft pleadings, deposition notices, subpoenas, motions, and briefs. They might handle discovery and organize and manage files, documents, and exhibits. They'll file documents with federal and state courts and assist at hearings, arbitration, mediation, administrative proceedings, closings, and trials. Although what a paralegal cannot do is established by law, what she might do is highly dependent on the lawyer she works for. Some attorneys find delegating easier than others. A paralegal's prime purpose is to free up the attorney's time so he can do those things that only lawyers can do – like appear in court. 

Paralegal Education

Although some paralegals possess no formal paralegal training, many possess a 2-year associate’s degree, a 4-year bachelor’s degree, and/or a paralegal certificate.

Paralegals with a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a college degree in any field combined with a paralegal certificate generally have the most career prospects.

But some paralegals work their way up, starting as legal secretaries with a firm and taking on more and more responsibility as they learn the ropes and become indispensable to the firm.

They can still enhance their professional status through paralegal certification. Most certification bodies require that a paralegal pass an examination and possess at least one year of experience in the field.

Paralegal Skills

Paralegals must have a solid knowledge of legal terminology, federal and state rules of legal procedure and substantive law. They must have excellent organizational skills to manage voluminous case files and exhibits, which can number in the hundreds for a single case. Communication skills are crucial because paralegals regularly interact with clients, experts, vendors, court personnel and other attorneys. Strong research and writing skills are also necessary for drafting pleadings, discovery, research memorandums, correspondence and other documents. 

Paralegal Salaries

Paralegal salaries hinge on many factors, including experience, education, practice environment and geographic location. The median paralegal salary is $52,549 as of 2017, with a range from $46,468 to $59,334. Paralegals working for metropolitan firms typically earn more than those who work in rural areas. Some experienced paralegals with special skills and/or management duties can earn in excess of six figures annually, while entry-level paralegals in rural areas may earn less than $20,000 per year.

Paralegal Job Outlook

Ranked as one of the 20 best jobs in America by CNN Money, opportunities in the paralegal field are plentiful. Factors contributing to growth include job attrition and a healthy legal market. Due to rising legal fees, more clients are demanding the use of paralegals over high-priced attorneys when possible. Increasing caseloads have encouraged lawyers to delegate tasks formerly reserved for attorneys and professional staff, creating more opportunities for paralegals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that paralegal positions will increase by 8 percent from 2014 through 2024.

More About Paralegal Careers

For more information on paralegal careers, contact the National Association of Legal Assistants or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.