Criminal Law Paralegal: Career Guide
Criminal law paralegals provide assistance to criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors’ offices. They perform a wide range of duties in order to support the work of attorneys. While criminal law paralegals must be familiar with the law and legal procedure, they do not possess the same authority as an attorney and cannot represent clients. Private law firms are the biggest employer of paralegals in this field (and many other fields), while the government and special interest groups employ a smaller number of paralegals. Advancement opportunities for experienced criminal law paralegals include administrative and managerial positions. Paralegals who work for large law firms generally have more opportunities for advancement than do legal assistants who work in smaller firms.
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 clients or against individuals or groups of people. Typical tasks for criminal law paralegals who work for a defense attorney include:
- Making the necessary arrangements to post bail
- Filing motions requesting a reduction in bond
- Gathering discovery information, including affidavits, police reports, and search warrants
- Interviewing witnesses
- Completing legwork to prepare for plea bargains or for a change of plea
- Writing motions such as a request for a new trial or a request for appeal
- Communicating with probation officers
Steps for Becoming a Criminal Law Paralegal
Criminal law paralegals generally must have a minimum of a two-year associate 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. 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 (NFP), among other professional organizations, recommend that prospective paralegals find a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). You can find out more about available programs through our Paralegal Degree & Career Center. To become a criminal law paralegal, you should expect to follow steps similar to these:
- Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*
- Get certified as a paralegal.**
- Apply for an open position as a criminal law paralegal.
- Complete an interview.
- Get hired as a paralegal.
- Receive on-the-job after being hired.
*Check with the specific paralegal job to find out exactly what education and experience is required.
**Optional. It may give you an advantage over other candidates, but is usually not required. Read more about certification below.
Criminal Law Paralegal Job Training
Criminal law paralegals may earn training by completing an internship with a criminal defense law firm or a prosecutor’s office, which can help aspiring criminal law assistants develop contacts within the field and potentially even job leads and/or a job offer. Paralegals who want to gain additional experience and 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 most states, it can be beneficial to criminal law paralegals who want to illustrate their professionalism and dedication to the profession. 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. You can read more about certification options on our Paralegal Certification page. Successful paralegals typically have strong analytical skills, are detail-oriented, and enjoy working with a diverse group of people.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Criminal Defense Paralegal
- Criminal Law Paralegal
- Criminal Litigation Paralegal
- Criminal Paralegal
Criminal Law Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook
The US Bureau Labor of Statistics reports that paralegals earn a median salary of $48,810 per year.1 Experience, certification, and specialization are just a few of the factors that determine salary, along with geographic region and place of employment. Individuals with a two- or a four-year degree with a criminal law specialization will have a better chance of finding employment with a potentially higher salary. Through 2024, job opportunities for paralegals are expected to grow 8% nationwide, about as fast as the average occupation.1
Interested in a career similar to a criminal law paralegal? If so, check out these related careers:
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What type of schedule does a criminal paralegal generally work?
Answer: Criminal law paralegals generally work full-time, although some law firms may hire on a part-time basis. Overtime is not unusual when working particularly complex or important cases.
Question: Are there any certification programs specifically for criminal law paralegals?
Answer: 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 the NALA website.
Question: Are online programs a good alternative to traditional programs?
Answer: Yes. In fact, the National Federation of Paralegals asserts that distance programs provide flexibility and a “viable alternative” for self-motivated individuals.
- 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.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm