Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals (also known as legal assistants) perform a multitude of tasks in helping lawyers in law offices.

Paralegal working in a law office

Although they are prohibited from such acts of explicit law practice like setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court, paralegals are indispensable to the successful running of a law firm.

Paralegals help lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals might investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered.

They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases.

They analyze and organize the information and may prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled.

If attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials.

Paralegals also organize and track files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys.

Paralegals help draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. They also may assist in preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates.

Some paralegals coordinate the activities of other law office employees and maintain financial office records.

As you can see, paralegal is an exciting, if demanding career.

Where They Work:

Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices.

A small number of paralegals own their own businesses and work as freelance legal assistants, contracting their services to attorneys or corporate legal departments.

Paralegals do most of their work in offices and law libraries. Occasionally, they travel to gather information and perform other duties.

How Much They Earn:

Wages of paralegals and legal assistants vary greatly. Salaries depend on education, training, experience, the type and size of employer, and the geographic location of the job. In general, paralegals who work for large law firms or in large metropolitan areas earn more than those who work for smaller firms or in less populated regions.

In May 2008, full-time wage-and-salary paralegals and legal assistants earned $46,120. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,080 and $59,310. The top 10 percent earned more than $73,450, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $29,260.

Education & Certification:

Most entrants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Several community colleges and online universities offer programs leading to associate degree in paralegal studies.

The quality of paralegal training programs varies; some programs may include job placement services. If possible, prospective students should examine the experiences of recent graduates before enrolling in a paralegal program.

Training programs usually include courses in legal research and the legal applications of computers.

Many paralegal training programs also offer an internship, in which students gain practical experience by working for several months in a private law firm, the office of a public defender or attorney general, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, a bank, or a government agency. Internship experience is a valuable asset in seeking a job after graduation.

There are also agencies that offer voluntary certifications which require various combinations of education, experience and examinations for paralegal professionals. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) administers the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP) credential, while the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential.

Job Prospects:

Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers. Paralegals are performing a wider variety of duties, making them more useful to businesses.


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