Paralegal compensation has risen steadily in the past decade, despite a bump in the road in the depths of the 2009-2010 recession. As paralegals perform a broader and more complex range of tasks (paralegals even represent clients in court in certain countries and administrative tribunals), paralegal earnings continue to rise. The average paralegal salary hovers at around $50,000 per year but paralegals often make more through bonuses. Overtime hours can also add significant cash to a paralegal's paycheck.
The paralegal field is one of the fastest-growing professions on the globe. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the employment of paralegals and legal assistants to grow 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Among the factors driving this growth is client demand for cheaper, more efficient delivery of legal services. Since hourly rates charged by attorneys are typically double or triple the rates of paralegals for the same task, law firm economics mandates the increased use of paralegals to minimize costs. As a result, a paralegal career is one of the hottest non-lawyer jobs in the legal industry.
Unlike lawyers who must complete seven years of formal education and pass the bar exam to practice law, you can become a paralegal in as little as a few months of study. Moreover, paralegals do not need to attend a brick-and-mortar institution; you can obtain a paralegal certificate or degree through a variety of online programs. Paralegals with a bachelor's degree in legal studies or related degree or a bachelor's degree in any field and a paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program have the most employment opportunities.
Paralegal work is intellectually challenging and involves a range of high-level skills. The most successful paralegals are problem-solvers and innovative thinkers. Paralegals must become subject matter experts in their specialty area and master legal procedure, research, drafting, and other skills. They must stay on top of ever-changing laws and new legal trends and developments while interfacing with attorneys, opposing counsel, vendors, staff members, clients and others. The work is varied and each day brings new challenges.
As paralegals perform more complex and challenging work, paralegal prestige is rising. Paralegals are no longer simply lawyer's assistants; they are assuming management roles in corporations, leadership roles in law firms and entrepreneurial roles in independent paralegal businesses. Over the years, paralegals have transcended the image of glorified legal secretary to become respected members of the legal team.
A career as a paralegal offers a unique opportunity to help others. These opportunities vary, depending on the paralegal's practice area. For example, personal injury paralegals help injured plaintiffs receive compensation for their losses; intellectual property paralegals help clients patent and protect their unique ideas, and family law paralegals help clients in conflict-fraught divorce and custody cases. Paralegals in the public interest sector help poor and disadvantaged segments of the population with legal issues ranging from protection from domestic abuse to assistance preparing wills.
While paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney, many paralegals have direct contact with clients. For example, paralegals interview potential clients to assess the merits of their case, prepare clients for depositions and cross-examination at trial, work with clients to gather documents and data, assist clients in preparing discovery responses and serve as the client's point of contact throughout a case or deal. In certain practice areas, such as divorce, child custody and personal injury, paralegals "hold the client's hand" through a difficult time. For many paralegals, the informal counseling and support they provide to troubled clients are some of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
08Shifting Legal Service Structure
In the past several years, the legal industry has seen a radical shift in the way legal services are delivered. Lawyers no longer have a monopoly on the law. New laws are opening doors for paralegals to perform a wider range of tasks than ever before, such as representing clients in administrative hearings, providing services directly to the public (such as preparing legal forms or drafting wills) and launching virtual paralegal firms that support attorneys in all practice areas. As many organizations and groups push to provide equal access to justice to underserved individuals, paralegals will serve a crucial role in keeping legal costs in check.
Best Things About Being a Paralegal
Advantages to a Career as a Paralegal or Legal Assistant
The paralegal industry has changed significantly since the 1970's when paralegals, also known as legal assistants, first emerged as a bona fide career. Client demands, economic necessity and explosive growth have made paralegals a popular career choice and there has never been a better time to be a paralegal. The eight paralegal career advantages below outline several of the highlights of work in the paralegal field (to learn some of the drawbacks to a paralegal career, explore these Eight Worst Things about Being a Paralegal).