To become a part of the legal community without going to law school, become a paralegal. Many other legal professionals depend heavily on the services of people working in paralegal careers.

What is the job of a paralegal?

Paralegals are also called legal assistants. They help lawyers prepare for trials, closings, and hearings. Paralegals may carry out investigations to ensure that all needed information is found and they research laws, judicial decisions, and legal articles that are relevant. Once the information is found, they organize it and prepare a report.

If the case goes forward, paralegals help prepare legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to the court, obtain affidavits, and keep track of the files needed by the attorney. They also draft contracts and wills, help set up trust funds, handle mortgages and separation statements.

Just like attorneys, paralegals may specialize in different sections of law. They may concentrate in corporate law, criminal law, bankruptcy, or immigration law.

What are the requirements for the job?

Paralegals usually attend a community college or vocational school for training. The study leads to an Associate degree. Other paralegals who have already received other college degrees can go to intense certification courses to become paralegals. Most employers don’t require certification, but having a certificate can enhance job possibilities. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) gives a two day exam with the goal of becoming a Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal. The American Alliance of Paralegals has a certification program for paralegals with at least 5 years of experience and the National Federation of Paralegal Association also has a program for paralegals with Bachelor’s degrees and work experience.

Paralegals must have good research and investigation skills. They should be able to organize large amounts of information and analyze it. Good people skills are vital, as well as good grammar and spelling. They must be proficient in using computers.

What is the work environment?

Paralegals work mainly in law offices. Those hired by corporations and government agencies usually work a 40-hour week. Paralegals in law offices may work long hours, especially in the time crunch of an upcoming trial.

Salaries, job advancement and outlook

The salaries for paralegals vary widely. Paralegals in big law firms typically make higher salaries than those in small firms or in less populated areas. In 2008, the average salary was $46,000.

Paralegals can advance in their field by receiving more certifications. They may supervise other paralegals.

The job outlook for paralegals is very good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a growth rate much higher than for other professions, reaching 28% from 2008 to 2018. Employers trying to reduce costs will depend on paralegals for work that once was done by attorneys. Private law firms hire the majority of paralegals, but they also can find work in corporate legal departments, banks, real estate firms and insurance companies.

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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