Paralegal careers, or legal assistant / legal researcher careers, are growing. In fact, the need for well trained and qualified legal professionals has never been so high. Lawyers often delegate many tasks to paralegals. These legal assistants continue to assume new responsibilities in law firms though they cannot perform tasks directly connected with the practice of law. The legal researcher may not set legal fees, give legal advice, or present cases in court.
Perhaps the most valuable work paralegals provide is to help lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals may investigate the facts of a case and locate appropriate laws or judicial decisions that apply. They analyze and organize the information, may prepare written reports for the attorneys, and help prepare legal arguments. Organizing and tracking files of important case documents to make them easily accessible to attorneys is an important function of a legal assistant.
Paralegals obtain affidavits, draft pleadings, and motions to be filed, as well as help prepare the legal arguments of a case and assist the attorney during the trial. Some legal assistants help draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. They work on creating trust accounts, estate planning, and preparing tax returns and may also coordinate other employees in the law office and maintain the office financial records.
Paralegal Career Requirements
The most common path to a career as a paralegal is through a community college associate degree program in paralegal studies. There are also paralegal studies offered by accredited universities which combine the legal training in addition to standard degree coursework.
Paralegal Education and Training
Paralegal certificate programs are widely varied with some requiring only a few months to complete and most provide intensive paralegal training for those with college degrees. The American Bar Association has approved about 260 paralegal education programs.
Some schools accept high school graduates to their paralegal training programs while others require specific college courses or a bachelor’s degree. Many of the programs include internships where students gain practical experience working for private law firms, in the office of a public defender, or through another venue. When seeking a paralegal job, an internship is a valuable asset for an applicant to list on the resume.
In some instances, applicants may have experience or education in a technical field useful to a law firm. This might be a background in nursing or health administration that would be of value to personal injury law practice or it may be experience in tax preparation or the criminal justice system. Nearly all applicants will also be trained by their new employer while on the job – on the job training (OJT).
Experienced legal secretaries may advance their career by moving into paralegal positions.
Paralegal Career Salary
Earnings depend on education, training, and experience as well as the type of employer and the geographic location of the position. Paralegals in larger law firms earn more than those with smaller firms or in less populated areas. In 2008, the median income for full time paralegals was $46,120, while the top 10 percent earned more than $73,460.
To compensate for occasional long work hours, many firms also pay bonuses. Additional benefits are vacation pay, paid sick leave, savings plans, insurance, and reimbursement for continuing education.
Legal Assistant Opportunities
Many organizations employ paralegals but most work for law firms, corporate legal departments, and government offices. Legal assistants are given more responsibility and less supervision as they gain experience. They may be assigned supervisory duties or be promoted to management positions within the firm or legal department.
Paralegals frequently move to another law firm or company when they feel ready for increased responsibility and advancement. This is possible due to faster than average growth in this career field.
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