Criminal Law Paralegal Career Guide

Criminal law paralegals provide assistance to criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors’ offices. They perform a wide range of duties that all support an attorney’s work but they do not possess the same authority as an attorney and cannot represent clients.

Criminal Law Paralegal Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Criminal law paralegals perform many of the same tasks as other paralegals, including filing, drafting paperwork, performing research, interviewing witnesses and possible co-defendants, corresponding with clients, and helping to build cases for or against individuals depending on whether they work for the District Attorney or for a private law firm. Those criminal law paralegals who work for a defense attorney may complete the following tasks, according to the National Federation of Paralegals:

  • Make the necessary arrangements to post bail.
  • File motions requesting a reduction in bond.
  • Gather all discovery information, including affidavits, police reports, and search warrants.
  • Interview witnesses.
  • Complete the necessary legwork to prepare for plea bargains or for a change of plea (from not guilty to guilty, for example).
  • Write motions on numerous issues, including a request for a new trial and a request for an appeal.
  • Communicate with probation officers.

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How to Become a Criminal Law Paralegal: Requirements and Qualifications

Criminal law paralegals generally must have a two or a four year degree, in criminal justice or paralegal training with a criminal law specialization. However, an increasing number of organizations now require candidates to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Federation of Paralegals. The organization also advises prospective criminal law paralegals to opt for a bachelor’s degree program instead of a two year degree. Criminal law paralegals must have extensive knowledge of local, state, and federal laws and court procedures. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegals, among other professional organizations, recommend that prospective paralegals find a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). A directory of the ABA’s approved paralegal programs can be found at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/paralegals/directory/home.html.

Criminal Law Paralegal Job Training

Criminal law paralegals may get training by completing an internship with a criminal defense law firm or a prosecutor’s office, which helps aspiring criminal law assistants develop contacts within the field and potentially even job leads and/or a job offer. Those paralegals who want to gain additional experience and to enhance their resumes may want to volunteer with a local paralegal association or the American Bar Association.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

While paralegal certification is not mandatory in the United States, it can be beneficial to criminal law paralegals who want to illustrate their professionalism and dedication to the profession. Those organizations that offer certification programs for criminal law paralegals include the American Alliance of Paralegals, the National Association of Legal Assistants, and the National Federation of Paralegals. Successful paralegals will have strong analytical skills, will be detailed oriented, and will enjoy working with a diverse group of people.

Other Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Criminal defense paralegal
  • Criminal litigation paralegal
  • Criminal paralegal

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Career Opportunities and Employers

Private law firms are the biggest employer of paralegals in this field (and many other fields) while the government and some interest groups employ the rest. Advancement opportunities for experienced criminal law paralegals include administrative and managerial positions. Those paralegals who work for large law firms generally have more opportunities for advancement than do legal assistants who work in smaller firms.

Criminal Law Paralegal Salary and Outlook

Criminal Law ParalegalExperience, certification, and specialization are just a few of the factors that determine salary. Individuals with a two or a four year degree with a criminal law specialization will have a better chance of finding employment with a higher salary. The Bureau Labor of Statistics reports that paralegals make a median salary of $46,990 per year.1 Individual salaries depend on geographical region and whether a person works for the District Attorney (DA) or for a private firm. Criminal law paralegal salaries and job openings are expected to grow, according to Legal Assistant Today.

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Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What type of schedule does a criminal paralegal generally work?
Criminal law paralegals generally work full-time, although some law firms may hire on a part-time basis.

Are there any certification programs specifically for criminal law paralegals?
The National Association of Legal Assistants offers a Criminal Litigation Advanced Legal Certification course. The course covers 10 modules, including preliminary proceedings, preparation for trial, trial, appeals, juvenile, and technology and the law. To learn more about this course, visit http://www.nala.org/apc-criminal.aspx.

Are online programs a good alternative to a traditional program?
Yes. In fact, the National Federation of Paralegals asserts that distance programs provide flexibility and a “viable alternative” for self-motivated individuals.

Additional Resources

American Association for Paralegal Education – A paralegal resource, including conference and education information.

American Bar Association – The benefits of ABA Membership for paralegals.

American Institute for Paralegal Studies – Information about the criminal law paralegal career.

National Federation of Paralegals – Education, news, certification, and other information for prospective and current paralegals.

NALA: National Association of Legal Assistants – A nationwide paralegal organization offering professional development programs and continuing eduction for paralegals.

The Association for Legal Assistants – An education and certification resource for paralegals and legal assistants.

National Paralegal Association – An international resource for paralegals and other legal professionals.

The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. – A resource for paralegals.

Featured Paralegal and Criminal Justice Programs

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
2. American Institute for Paralegal Studies: http://www.aips.com/criminal-law-paralegal/
3. The National Federation of Paralegals: http://www.paralegals.org/associations/2270/files/Paralegal_Responsibilities.pdf

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.