What is a paralegal and what do paralegals do?
In general, paralegals help lawyers prepare legal documents for court. Lawyers who try court cases and file lawsuits must cite the various legal precedent of past cases and statutes that will support their legal arguments. This is done in the hope that the court will take a specific position regarding the case.
Paralegals are invaluable in assisting with searching legal databases, code books, and other sources where the legal material is found. Paralegals help lawyers find the relevant law that applies to any given case.
What Do Paralegals Do?
While there may not be a set structure to how a paralegal will perform his or her duties, the only limitation is practicing as a lawyer or giving legal advice. The following list contains some of the tasks a paralegal will likely be required to perform.
1. Paralegals contact clients
Many law firms depend on paralegals to contact clients on behalf of the lawyer. In many instances, the paralegal acts as the initial, primary contact for the lawyer.
Without giving the client any legal advice, the paralegal will often advise a client on certain topics. They are required to keep the client up to date on legal matters.
2. Paralegals interview clients
Facts are usually needed by the lawyer before they interview their client. Those facts need to be relevant to the case.
Trained paralegals will have the experience and expertise to gather facts accordingly.
3. Paralegals will perform investigations
For any case, there could be a tremendous amount of evidence, relevant information, organizing and summarizing that needs to be completed.
Skilled and experienced paralegals can be counted on to obtain and assess gathered information.
4. Paralegals complete legal tasks on deadline
For instance, documents may be required by the court or a contract must be signed within a certain period.
Paralegals have to be efficient at tracking deadlines and keeping the lawyer informed at every step along the way.
5. Paralegals help prepare legal documents
They are often tasked to prepare legal documents under the supervision of a lawyer. These documents can range from pleading and contracts to deeds, wills and other legal paperwork that lawyers need to prepare.
Other paralegal responsibilities may include witnessing depositions, filing typing and photocopying documents.
Becoming a Paralegal
Some law firms may require a four-year degree from an accredited college or university, along with excellent grades. It is also not uncommon for law firms to provide in-house mentoring and their own training programs. These programs can take a paralegal well beyond their initial training, and may be offered to paralegals regardless of their career aspirations.
Smaller law firms may also require that paralegals possess accredited training.
Paralegal Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, median pay in 2012 was $46,990 per year. The job outlook from 2012-2022 is expected to grow 17 percent faster than average for all other occupations. Salaries may be the result of experience, education, networking and local economic conditions.
Evaluation Paralegal Training Programs
Choosing a paralegal training program can depend on a number of factors. One of the biggest is if the program is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA establishes the following guidelines for approving paralegal programs:
- The program must have operated for a minimum of two years with a track record of having graduated students
- An advisory committee that consist of practicing lawyers, paralegals, faculty, and administrators
- Adequate training resources regarding facilities, staffing, and supplies Providing a curriculum that offers general classes such as English, legal research, writing, and training that cover torts, probates or contracts
For many paralegal professionals, their path to a career began with the questions, “What is a paralegal or what do paralegals do?” Many find the profession to be both challenging and rewarding. Anyone who enjoys research, the law, or adhering to exact processes may want to consider paralegal as a profession.