Paralegal Career Guide

A paralegal, or legal assistant, typically works in private law firms and performs many of the tasks of attorneys. Paralegals assist attorneys by preparing for hearings, trials, and meetings. A paralegal job description includes investigation of the facts of a case, collection of documents from a variety of sources, and legal case research. In a paralegal career, you prepare written reports and legal documents, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, and assist attorneys during trials. Outside of courtroom preparation, they may prepare civil documents such as wills, contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. In spite of all of these duties, they are prohibited from doing tasks that are considered “practicing law.” Visit the Paralegal Degree page to learn how to become a paralegal.

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Paralegal Salary and Benefits

paralegal studies degreeA paralegal salary often depends on education, training, years of experience, the location of the job, and law firm size. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for paralegals in the United States is $46,990 and the top 10% earn more than $75,410.1 A paralegal career affords benefits such as bonuses, vacation, paid sick leave, health and life insurance, and reimbursement for participation in continuing legal education seminars.

Paralegal Career and Job Outlook

The BLS projects that job growth for paralegals will be 17% from 2012-2022.1 Demand for paralegals grows as the legal profession grows. Recent growth in areas like intellectual property law, healthcare law, elder issues, and environmental law contributes to the demand, and thus the increased need for paralegals. The best employment opportunities are for those who are experienced paralegals and those who have formal education and training. Earning a national paralegal certification can also help improve employment prospects and typically requires a paralegal degree from an accredited school. Request free information on how to become a paralegal so you can start you paralegal career.

Types of Paralegal Careers

Bankruptcy Paralegal

A bankruptcy paralegal’s general responsibility involves navigating a debtor (someone who owes money) through a federally approved process that allows him or her to be relieved of that debt by negotiating a deal with creditors and the court. This can involve many steps, including attending meetings between attorneys for both parties to take notes and make records, draft applications, petitions and schedules, conducting real property searches to establish known assets, ordering appraisals, interviewing various individuals and preparing for hearings. Some bankruptcies can be very complex and involve many more steps of varying degrees of complexity.

Corporate Paralegal

Corporate paralegals are responsible for assisting lawyers with all of the organization and planning of corporate transactions and business matters. Corporate paralegals also make sure that companies have all the necessary paperwork (filings with the Secretary of State, for instance) completed and filed for all applicable Federal, State and SEC (Securities and Exchanges Commissions) laws for any type of business. A paralegal specializing in corporate law, should have a thorough understanding of issues such as mergers and acquisitions, investments, employment laws, contract law, banking, finance and securities.

Legal Assistant

The title legal assistant is synonymous with the title of paralegal. They are the same, unless he or she has received the certification of Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). To become a Certified Paralegal would likewise differentiate a person from being a legal assistant, but the overall job function of assisting lawyers in trial preparation and research remains the same. A legal assistant can become a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) through certification testing performed by NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants).

Litigation Paralegal

A litigation paralegal’s job begins with discovery and an investigation into the facts of the case. Paralegals may assist in deposing witnesses, and collecting and cataloguing facts in the case file. Many pleadings may also occur during this time as attorneys attempt to maneuver their clients into the most favorable positions, and the litigation legal assistant will write and file these as well. The litigation paralegal will also be involved in the pre-trial and trial by organizing exhibits and evidence, doing research and helping the attorney establish the case for the client. This may involve preparing witnesses, evaluating jurors and acting as a liaison between all parties to the process. The litigation paralegal will also often assist with the settlement of the case, and an appeal if there happens to be one. This will again involve organizing and analyzing data, communicating with the necessary parties and acting as a liaison with court officials.

Personal Injury Paralegal

Personal injury can take many forms and occur in many different ways, which creates the need for a wide skill set in a personal injury paralegal. Major duties will include interviewing clients, taking notes and creating detailed records, conducting legal research, acting as liaison between interested parties and ensuring that proper documents are filed in a timely manner with the court. A personal injury paralegal may also often deal with medical personnel and documents, and a familiarity with administrative procedures used in the medical field will prove helpful. Personal injury cases can often lead to trial, and so skills in preparing documents for a courtroom appearance may also be of use. If the case does not go to trial, the paralegal may then have to assist in a settlement negotiation, which also involves research and analysis.

Featured, Online Paralegal Degrees and Programs

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Virginia College
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Liberty University
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  • CERT: Paralegal Studies

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Penn Foster Schools
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  • Legal Secretary

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Grand Canyon University
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  • M.S. in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.