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Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants are trusted to perform many of the duties and tasks in a lawyer’s office. While they are prohibited from carrying out anything that might be considered practicing law they are able to carry out some basic responsibilities.

What to Expect

Lawyers are able to delegate many tasks to paralegals and legal assistants. These professional are tasked with helping lawyers prepare for trials. This includes helping lawyers prepare for;

  • Hearings
  • Closings
  • Meetings

Paralegals and legal assistants commonly research cases identifying laws and past cases that have any relevance to the case at hand. Once they gather any useful information paralegals and legal assistants then draft a report to present to the lawyers. Based on this report and other information the lawyers will decide whether or not to pursue the case.

Once a case is filed paralegals and legal assistant may then be asked to;

  • Draft motions
  • File pleadings
  • Help to prepare legal arguments
  • Gather affidavits
  • Organize needed files

Depending upon the office and the lawyer’s practice paralegals and legal assistants will be asked to perform specific functions. They may help in the creation of mortgages, divorce papers, and even contracts with the supervision of lawyers.

In some offices paralegals and legal assistants will act as an office administrator. They will direct the duties of other office employees and even perform bookkeeping and financial filing.

Paralegals and legal assistants can be found where ever lawyers are needed. While the majority of paralegals are hired by private firms they can also be found in government agencies and the legal department of corporations.

Areas that paralegals can work in are;

  • Criminal law
  • Corporate law
  • Immigration
  • Family law
  • Real estate
  • Labor law
  • Intellectual property
  • Personal injury

Depending on the office and law firm paralegals and legal assistant’s duties and responsibilities will vary.

Education, Training, and Certification

Most paralegals and legal assistants have obtained an associate degree through paralegal studies. It is also possible to receive a certificate in paralegal studies should you already have a college degree.

Many community colleges have a paralegal studies programs that offer comprehensive course work and training. Lawyers often prefer job candidates to have graduated from an American Bar Association approved course. While not a necessity graduates from programs approved by the ABA do stand a better chance of being hired by a respected law office.

Certification does exist through organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants. Those who are qualified may take the two day exam in an effort to earn the Certified Paralegal title.

Paralegals and legal assistants must also display;

  • Clear communication skills
  • Great verbal skills
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Ability to handle high stress situations
  • Fantastic research skills
  • Ability to work well with others

Employment Options

Paralegals and legal assistants will find employment in a number of areas. While the majority will be employed in private law firms a number of paralegals will find positions with government agencies, and large companies.

There are freelance opportunities available to paralegals. These freelancers contract their services to legal firms for a price.

Paralegals may find positions with;

  • Insurance agencies
  • Real estate offices
  • Private law firms
  • Government agencies
  • Businesses

Employment Outlook

While the paralegal field is expected to experience increased growth competition will make it hard for many professionals to find good paying jobs. Certification and additional training is often the best way to gain the upper hand over any possible competition in the field.

Lawyers are turning more and more to paralegals and legal assistants creating a continued need for these skilled professionals.

Projected Salary

Salary and wages for paralegals and legal assistants vary on several criteria. Education, certification, training, and experience all factor into determine wages for paralegals. On average paralegals can expect $50,000 annually.

The editors of McGraw-Hill and the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Big Book of Jobs, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-2013 ©2009 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Material "Adapted"

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