Nature of the Profession
Paralegals, also called legal assistants, assume a wide range of tasks and perform some of the same tasks as lawyers; however, paralegals are not allowed to give legal advice, set fees, nor present cases in court.
Paralegals often help lawyers prepare for real estate closings, court hearings and trials. They investigate the facts of cases, identify appropriate laws and precedent, and ensure that all relevant information is considered to assigned cases. After analyzing and organizing the information, paralegals may prepare written reports for the attorneys to use. Should the case go to court, paralegals may help prepare legal arguments, draft pleadings, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trial.
Education and Training
The two-year Associate of Applied Science degree for paralegals typically includes courses in law and legal research techniques. Experience with various software programs and the use of online legal research have become essential skills for paralegals.
Paralegals employed by corporations and government usually work a standard 40-hour week. Paralegals do most of their work at desks in offices and law libraries. Although most paralegals work year round, some are temporarily employed during busy times of the year, and then released when the workload diminishes. Paralegals who work for law firms sometimes work very long hours when they are under pressure to meet deadlines. Some law firms reward such loyalty with bonuses and additional time off.
Paralegals in small and medium-sized law firms usually perform a variety of duties that require a general knowledge of the law. For example, they may research judicial decisions on improper police arrests or help prepare a mortgage contract. Paralegals employed by large law firms, government agencies, and corporations, however, are more likely to specialize in one aspect of the law.
The median income for paralegals is $36,798.
Paralegal employment is projected to increase 22% through the year 2016. Law firms are increasingly hiring paralegals to lower costs and to increase the availability, as well as the efficiency, of legal services. It is projected the majority of paralegal job openings will be new jobs created by employment growth, where highly-skilled, formally trained paralegals have excellent employment potential.