What is a Paralegal?
Table of Contents
- What is a Paralegal?
- What does a Paralegal do?
- What is the workplace of a Paralegal like?
- How healthy is the market for paralegals?
- What is the difference between a paralegal and a law clerk?
- What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?
- What is some good advice for paralegal students?
- What is it like being a paralegal?
- Further Reading
- Similar Careers
A paralegal is someone who performs delegated legal work for which a lawyer is ultimately responsible. They perform a variety of tasks which include maintaining and organizing files, drafting documents and conducting legal research. Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most work for law firms, government agencies, or corporate legal departments.
What does a Paralegal do?
Paralegals may typically do the following:
- Help lawyers during trials
- Conduct research on laws, legal articles and regulations
- Organize and present information
- Keep information related to cases in computer databases
- Help lawyers by writing reports to prepare for trials
- Investigate facts of a case
- Draft correspondence and documents, such as mortgages and contracts
- Get formal statements and affidavits that could be used as evidence in court
Paralegals help lawyers prepare for trials, hearings and corporate meetings. Depending on the size of the organization or firm, a paralegal's duties could vary, especially in a smaller firm. In addition to reviewing and organizing information, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents and prepare the legal arguments to be filed with the court.
Rather than handling a case from beginning to end, paralegals that are employed in larger organizations work mostly on a particular phase of a case. For example, a litigation paralegal might only review legal material for internal use, conduct research for lawyers, maintain reference files, and collect and organize evidence for hearings. Litigation paralegals often do not attend trials, but might draft settlement agreements or prepare trial documents.
Law firms increasingly use computer software and technology in preparing for trials and for managing documents. Paralegals use computer software to prepare presentations and draft and index documents. In addition, paralegals must be up to date on the latest software used for electronic discovery and familiar with electronic database management. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials that are related to a trial, such as data, emails, accounting databases, documents and websites.
Paralegals can assume more responsibilities by specializing in different areas. Some of these areas could be litigation, corporate law, criminal law, personal injury, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, real estate and family law. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as delegating work to other paralegals or overseeing team projects.
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What is the workplace of a Paralegal like?
Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most work for a corporation's legal department, government agencies or law firms. They usually work full time, and although most paralegals work year round, some are temporarily employed during busy times of the year. Paralegals who work for law firms may need to work overtime to meet deadlines. Occasionally, paralegals travel to gather information and do other tasks, but for the most part work in offices and law libraries.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. This occupation attracts many applicants, and competition for jobs will be strong. Experienced, formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects."
A paralegal is under the guidance of a lawyer, and assists with many legal responsibilities. They help prepare cases and handle many of the administrative tasks involved with pursuing claims, as well as conduct research and execute orders from the lawyer in relation to a case. Paralegal training programs typically offer classes that resemble the first year or two of law school.
A law clerk is a legal professional who works for a lawyer or most likely, a judge, and helps to research and determine legal options in a case. Law clerks have typically completed law school, and get their start as a law clerk. Law students compete intensely for summer law clerk positions because law firms use these temporary worker slots to fill their future attorney job openings.
Also relevant for Judicial Law Clerk
Both terms are used interchangeably. The American Bar Association (ABA) does not distinguish between the paralegal vs. legal assistant positions. The ABA defines both positions as follows: "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."
If you are serious about becoming a paralegal, it would be wise to specialize in a healthy and growing area of the law. The types of paralegals in greatest demand appear to be those who have specialized in: litigation, corporate, real estate, intellectual property, immigration, and trust and estates. Make yourself irreplaceable by anticipating what the lawyer needs and by being extremely organized. Working as a paralegal is also a great way to discover if you'd like to be a lawyer.
There is an overwhelming amount of documentation and filing that paralegals are responsible for, and being exceptionally organized will make this a lot easier. Paralegals also need to be detail-oriented and efficient. Because duties can vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorneys, a paralegal must also be very adaptable to situations and must either enjoy the organizational aspect of the job, or be willing to dedicate themselves enough to become exceptional at it.
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Reasons To Become A Paralegal
Paralegals typically work with attorneys in all aspects of their practices including helping them prepare cases for trial, researching matters, speaking with clients, and preparing documents for court deadlines. A paralegal is often vital to a lawyer's success.
What Does A Paralegal Do Compared To A Legal Assistant Or A Legal Secretary?
A paralegal’s job description will vary depending on the attorney, the type of law the attorney practices, the size of the law firm and the location of the law firm.
Paralegal Frequently Asked Questions
To answer questions about paralegal regulation (in Canada), the Law Society has developed a set of frequently asked questions and answers, which is updated regularly as soon as new information becomes available.
What Does A Paralegal Do? A General Overview..
What does a paralegal do in general is a great question. Unfortunately, paralegals don’t do the same thing in every type of law firm. Paralegals have a varied set of skills and requirements depending upon the focus of law the firm they are working for practices.
A Day In The Life Of A Paralegal
Walk through a day in the life of a paralegal and what the career entails. Covers education, daily responsibilities, and legal definition of "paralegal" from the American Bar Association (ABA).
Paralegal Stories: Litigation Paralegal
Part Detective, Part Counselor, Part Magician... Robin Gomez has worked as a paralegal for 33 years. She currently works for the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has an AA in Business Management and an AA in Paralegal Studies.
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