How to Become a Paralegal: Career, Salary and Degrees! Law 101

Are you considering a job as a paralegal? This could be a fantastic opportunity to make your move into this field. In 2020, the median annual income for paralegals was $53,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and demand for paralegals is predicted to rise significantly over the next decade.

It’s possible to work as a paralegal in a variety of settings as well. For example, you can work for a private law company or in the public sector to conduct support jobs for attorneys. Assisting an attorney may entail helping to prepare for hearings, keeping in touch with clients, or assisting with court filings or other documentation.

Thanks to the different sorts of law that exist today, there are many of alternatives for specialty you may get into as a paralegal. If you’re interested in this field, keep reading to understand the usual duties of a paralegal, how to become a paralegal or legal secretary, and some of the benefits of this type of career.

Paralegal Description

Paralegals play a vital role in the legal system, doing a number of responsibilities to aid and support attorneys. Though the particular role a paralegal does is likely to differ based on their speciality and place of work, these professionals execute many of the administrative chores that go behind the scenes of a law office.

Duties of a Paralegal

Paralegals have numerous vital duties in a law practise. Some examples of the work they do include:

  • determining the truth of a situation
  • Collecting documents from a range of sources
  • Investigating court cases
  • Writing reports and legal documents
  • drafting court documents, such as pleadings and motions
  • assisting lawyers in court
  • Preparing civil documents such as wills, contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements
  • In-depth interviews with witnesses and customers
  • Maintaining communication with clients

Performing paralegal research and writing

A day in the life of a paralegal will appear very different from job to job, and depending on the area of law you work in. Some paralegals work with attorneys who are frequent presences in the courtroom. In that instance, a normal day is likely to include studying the facts of a case, drafting pleadings and motions, and aiding attorneys throughout trial.

Other paralegals are employed by lawyers who rarely appear in court. In such situation, a normal day can include reviewing and cataloguing records, creating communications, or preparing legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages.

The responsibilities of a paralegal employment are also influenced by the firm’s size. Many large law firms employ a large number of paralegals, each with a fairly unique job description. On the other hand, a small company can have just one paralegal to help the attorneys. Therefore, paralegals at smaller firms are likely to take on a broader variety of activities out of need.

Client contact may either be significant or minimal depending on the practise for which the paralegal works. Important to keep in mind, however, is that paralegals are not allowed to perform any work that could be considered “practising law.” Legal advice, client representation, case acceptance, and fee determination are all functions that paralegals are barred from performing and must instead be carried out by a practising attorney.

How to Become a Paralegal (Step by Step Guide)

So you’ve decided that a career as a paralegal is for you. Now what? In order to maximise your chances of job success, we suggest that you take the following steps:

Earn a paralegal diploma or degree by enrolling in school.

Paralegals normally must have some formal schooling to gain job. Generally, two-year paralegal programmes are offered by community colleges, whereas four-year paralegal programmes are offered by schools or universities. While some organisations will employ people with a two-year degree or certificate, the National Federation of Paralegals Association claims that employers are increasingly requiring paralegals to acquire a four-year degree and advises that all aspiring paralegals work toward a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programmes in paralegal studies and legal studies are both widespread. Getting your paralegal education from an ABA-accredited institution is highly recommended by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegals (NFP) (ABA). Our Paralegal Degree Center has information on a variety of paralegal degree programmes.

Obtain your certification by studying hard.

Though no qualification is officially required to become a paralegal, it can go a long way in making you a stronger contender for jobs in the industry. A formal training course may also allow you to earn more over the course of your career. Plus, some firms may prefer to recruit only job candidates with certification. Certification for paralegals is offered by many organisations, including the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the Association for Legal Professionals, and the National Association of Legal Assistant.

Choose a Specialty

Law is an enormously vast area, and just as attorneys in the field must often choose a speciality to be successful in their careers, so must paralegals. Once you gain experience in your chosen speciality, you’ll have an easier time progressing up the ranks and getting future positions, since employers will perceive you as an expert in your unique law field. You may specialise in litigation, criminal law or corporate law. You could also work in real estate or immigration law. You could also specialise in intellectual property law.

Get hired.

Paralegal programmes often require students to perform an internship in a legal context. An internship can give you real-world experience and even lead to a job offer once you graduate. Paralegals may find employment with a range of organisations, including banks, insurance companies, private law offices, professional trade organisations, real estate firms, and the legal departments of corporations. The public sector offers a wealth of possibilities as well. State and federal government agencies, consumer organisations, public defenders’ or prosecutors’ offices, and community legal services programmes all recruit paralegals.

Earn money while you learn to be a paralegal.

Paralegals who develop experience may find several prospects for growth, including being promoted to management roles. You will likely receive some experience during your internship in school, but you may also expect to learn on-the-job if you accept your first position. Use this chance to figure out what components of the industry you appreciate and which aspects you don’t care for so that you may be more focused in your future job hunt and seek for a paralegal job that best suits you.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Certification as a paralegal, while not required in most areas, may give job seekers an advantage. Legal assistants have numerous choices for certification. Certification is available through several organisations, including the National Federation of Paralegals, the National Association of Legal Assistants, and the American Alliance of Paralegals. Prospective legal assistants should have good analytical abilities, should grasp the value of attention to detail, and should be prepared to stay current with technology. We have a section on paralegal certification where you may learn more about your possibilities.

Types of Paralegal Careers

In trials, hearings, and board meetings, paralegals provide support to attorneys. Aside from law firms, paralegals frequently assist legal and financial departments in large enterprises, nonprofits, and government agencies. Below are descriptions of possible paralegal occupations.

Bankruptcy paralegal

A bankruptcy paralegal navigates a debtor (someone who owes money) through a legally approved process that permits him or her to be relieved of that debt by negotiating an agreement with creditors and the court. Bankruptcy can involve many steps, including going to meetings between attorneys for both parties to take notes and to make records, preparing applications, petitions, and schedules, performing real property lookups to establish known assets, ordering appraisals, interviewing various individuals, and preparing for hearings. Some bankruptcies are so complicated that they necessitate extra, varyingly complex steps.

Corporate Paralegal

Corporate paralegals help lawyers organise and plan business transactions and other legal problems involving corporations. Corporate paralegals make ensuring that all required paperwork (such as filings with the Secretary of State) is completed and filed, and that the company complies with all applicable federal and state regulations. A paralegal specialised in corporate law must have a complete understanding of mergers and acquisitions, investments, employment legislation, contract law, banking, finance, and securities.

Criminal Law Paralegal

A criminal law paralegal helps the work of criminal defence attorneys and prosecutors. As with other paralegals, they’ll be responsible for similar tasks (filing paperwork, conducting research, interviewing witnesses and defendants, corresponding with clients, etc.). Their work, on the other hand, will specifically assist in the development of cases in favour of or against suspects. Criminal law paralegals may also be known as criminal defence paralegals, criminal litigation paralegals, or just criminal paralegals. To understand more about criminal law paralegals, see our Criminal Law Paralegal Career Guide.

Paralegal in Immigration and Naturalization

Immigration paralegals work with immigration attorneys, who specialise in assisting clients through immigration regulations to acquire visas, become naturalised citizens or legal residents, and handle other immigration-related concerns. They may also aid attorneys who help US individuals complete the adoption procedure of children from abroad. They can be found working for corporations, law firms, or even the government. Immigration paralegals often assist attorneys and guide clients through the process of becoming a naturalised citizen, a legal resident, or to help a US citizen go through the immigration process for adopting a child from overseas. Typically, they help attorneys gather information, write reports, and testify in court.

A legal assistant is another broad word for a paralegal. Legal assistants and paralegals both aid lawyers in trial preparation and research. However, only people who have received certification as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) can use the title of “legal assistant.”

In-House Counsel

The phrase legal secretary was previously synonymous with the term paralegal, although over time the jobs have become separated. Attorney support duties such as legal research and document writing are performed by paralegals, whereas legal secretaries handle the day-to-day administration of attorneys and paralegals by fielding phone calls, making appointments, arranging meetings, and setting up reminders. Legal secretaries assist attorneys and senior paralegals in their day-to-day operations by handling clerical and organisational tasks.

Litigation Paralegal

Finding out the facts of a case is the first step in the job of a litigation paralegal. The deposition of witnesses and the gathering and cataloguing of facts for the case file are tasks that paralegals can help with. In order to get their clients into the best possible situations, attorneys may use the litigation paralegal to draught and file pleadings. As part of the case preparation and trial process, the paralegal will assist the attorney by arranging exhibits and evidence, performing research, and serving as a liaison between all parties engaged in putting together the client’s case. If an appeal is necessary, the litigation paralegal can assist with the settlement of the matter and serve as a point of contact between the parties involved as well as the court officials.

Personal Injury Paralegal

Personal injury paralegals must be well-versed in a variety of areas because the scope of their work is so broad. An attorney’s responsibilities include anything from meeting with clients and gathering information to performing legal research, serving as a point of contact for all parties involved, and making sure all necessary paperwork is submitted to the court on time. A personal injury paralegal may interact with medical people and paperwork, thus familiarity with administrative procedures utilised in the medical field would prove helpful. Personal injury claims often lead to trial. Having the skill to put together legal documents is an advantage in court. If the lawsuit is settled before trial, the paralegal can assist in the research and analysis that goes along with the settlement negotiations.

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