Paralegals fill an important role in the legal field. They are responsible for completing many of the same tasks as fully-qualified lawyers, however paralegals are prohibited from performing any duties considered to be part of practicing law, such as appearing in court and dispensing legal advice. Instead, paralegals perform the preparatory and organizational tasks that are essential to the creation, maintenance, and accessibility of legal documents.
Many paralegal careers are enhanced by earning a degree in a relevant field. Additional training often leads to higher pay and better job opportunities. Check out the programs below which offer free information:
The specific duties of a paralegal are determined by their place of employment and their area of specialization.
The majority of paralegals are employed by law firms, but they are also in-demand in corporate legal departments, and various government agencies. Paralegals that specialize in a particular area of the law may only perform one or two basic tasks once they reach the upper levels of their profession.
In general, a paralegal is responsible for working alongside lawyers to assist them in preparing for hearings, trials, meetings, and closings. Paralegals may be required to research the different aspects of a particular case and identify all relevant information such as judicial decisions, legal studies, articles, and pertinent laws. Once they have collected the information, the paralegal will then analyze and organize the material into written reports used by lawyers to decide the proper course of action. Should the lawyer decide to take the case to trial, the paralegal might assist in drafting legal documents such as pleadings and motions. Paralegals are responsible for keeping track of all the necessary documentation and making it easily accessible for attorneys.
Depending on their place of employment, paralegals might draft types of legal documents that are unrelated to litigation. Corporate paralegals often work with attorneys in the creation of employee contracts, stock-option plans, benefit plans, and shareholder agreements. Corporate paralegals might also be charged with reviewing government regulations in order to make sure the corporation is operating within the law.
Paralegals who work for government agencies have many of the same tasks as paralegals employed by law firms, however the specific duties will vary from agency to agency. They are usually responsible for preparing documents explaining agency laws, regulations, and policy that are distributed to the public.
Training and Education Requirements
There are several avenues to becoming a paralegal. The most common route is to enroll in a community college paralegal studies program that culminates in an associates degree. Individuals who already hold a degree in a separate field can seek a certificate in paralegal studies. Although there is no specific degree requirement for paralegals, it is advisable to complete a degree or certificate course in order to be competitive in the field.
Curriculum for paralegal studies programs will include classes in legal research and writing, as well as in-depth studies of specific areas of the law. They will also cover subjects that are related to paralegal tasks, such as the use of computer applications in the creation and storage of legal documents. Many programs also require an internship or enrollment in a job placement program as part of the course.
Many paralegals are required to continue their education after becoming professionals either by their employers or by State law after.
The quality of paralegal training programs does vary and it’s important to check the accreditation of any prior to enrollment. A good resource is the American Bar Association, which has a list of over 200 approved paralegal studies programs.
Paralegal Salary and Wages
Salary and wages among paralegals is determined primarily by their experience and education, as well as their place of employment, size of employer, and location. Generally, paralegals who work for larger companies in highly populated urban areas earn more than those who work for smaller firms. The highest earning paralegals earned a salary of $73,000 in 2008, while the bottom 10% earned less than $30,000. However, a paralegal with some amount of formal training can expect to earn between $30,000 and $50,000.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Paralegals are not required to become certified in order to perform their job, however many employers prefer to hire paralegals that have earned voluntary certification from either a national or local organization. There are several professional associations that offer certification for paralegals. Requirements for certification will vary among the organization.
There are 4 major professional associations that offer certification for paralegals.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is a large organization that offers certification for paralegals that have a combination of education and experience. Paralegals who pass a 2-day exam are eligible to use the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential. Certification from NALA lasts for 5 years.
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. offers the AACP (American Alliance Certified Paralegal) credential. In order to be eligible for certification, a paralegal must have 5 years of experience and meet educational criteria. Certification lasts for 2-years.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers a Registered Paralegal (RP) credential to paralegals who have a bachelor’s degree and 2-years experience in the workplace.
The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers a Professional Paralegal (PP) certification after the applicant has successfully passed a 4-part exam.