Some people think of a paralegal as little more than a lawyer’s secretary, but the profession actually has a lot more depth and scope than that. As legal assistants, many of them do work in law offices as support for licensed, practicing attorneys. However, there are plenty of career options for paralegals outside of this traditional path, and these opportunities have been rapidly increasing in recent years. Paralegal jobs require significant technical and procedural knowledge, so compensation often scales with accrued experience.
Conducting legal research is a staple responsibility for paralegals in virtually any job setting. It is particularly important for those supporting lawyers, because detailed information gathering is crucial for building a strong case for the client. Paralegals may examine previous cases, judicial rulings and local laws that may apply to the case in question. Assistants in legal offices may also take notes on initial interviews with clients and witnesses, as well as conduct follow-up interviews as needed before trial.
Drafting and Presentation
Members of the paralegal profession often find themselves filling a communications role in addition to a legal one. Researchers need to present their findings in the form of a written draft that exhibits relevant information in a convenient and useful way. In some cases, they may need to put together a visual presentation to deliver to a larger group as well. Paralegals also compose official documents like deposition notices, complaints, subpoenas and legal briefs. This requires understanding of legal terminology as well as writing ability to ensure the message is expressed appropriately.
Some legal assistants take on various administrative functions in their workplace. They may perform some secretarial duties, like setting appointments for attorneys, managing the storage of key information in the office and filing documents with government agencies. Good interpersonal skills as well as knowledge of telephone and email etiquette is a big help for many of these administrative duties. Organizational skills and attention to detail are also key traits that employers look for in their office administrators.
The typical education requirements for entry level work in the profession is an Associate’s degree, so it’s a good opportunity for those who want to minimize time spent in academia. The demand growth outlook for paralegals is extremely favorable compared to averages across the job market, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also reports that the median pay across the profession was $49,500 in 2016, across a total number of around 286,000 jobs in the nation.
With a positive job outlook and relatively low entry requirements, becoming a legal assistant will likely be a viable career move for many people in the years ahead. As with any other occupation, it’s a good idea for students or interested adults to carefully consider the realities of the profession before pursuing a degree. Talking to a friend or relative who is currently a practicing paralegal is usually the best way to get detailed and accurate information to help guide an important career decision.