What is a Paralegal?
A staff member who has completed some legal training, but do not have the necessary qualifications to be a Chartered Legal Executive or Solicitor, is usually referred to as a paralegal. The term paralegal applies to any staff member processing files under supervision- from law graduates, progress a heavy caseload from the beginning to the end to legal secretaries that have gained the required knowledge to undertake specific practical tasks.
In a nutshell, the term paralegal is defined as a person who is qualified by education, work experience or training who is retained or employed by a lawyer, corporation, government agent, law office or any other entity and who executes specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
Commonly, paralegal is employed in the fields of personal injury, debt recovery or residential conveyance, claims handler or Litigation Assistant respectively. In family or employment law department, a paralegal might be known as ‘legal assistant.’
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Four decades ago when paralegal was in its infancy, it was not yet certain among the lawyers on how to best utilize paralegals and they often doubled as legal secretaries. In the recent days, paralegal plays an integral role in legal services delivery. As they still may perform some administrative work, a majority of paralegals assume more of lawyer’s workload, employing understanding that is more advanced of the legal system. This enables the lawyers to have more free time to focus on a more detailed task and save clients money. As compared to lawyers, paralegal services are cheaper.
The day-to-day responsibility of a paralegal can in a large extent vary depending on the paralegal specialty and the place of employment. In-house legal staff for the corporation can spend more of their time filling documents related to business needs and drafting board resolutions while litigation paralegals will have some considerable work related to trials. However, some elements of the paralegal job description are similar no matter the field of practice. Some of them include:
- Contacting Clients
One of the most common tasks of a paralegal is to contact clients on behalf of the lawyer. In most cases, they are the primary contact for the lawyer. A paralegal advises clients on topics that do not necessarily constitute actual legal advice, and also keeps the client up to date.
- Legal Investigations
A paralegal will perform the task of gathering, organizing and summarizing of relevant information. For instance, in a case of a probate case investigation into the personal property will be needed and in a personal injury lawsuit, photographs of the actual accident. A skilled paralegal will be in a position to obtain and assess the information.
- Interviewing Clients
They will usually need some fact from the clients before the lawyer can see the client. A trained and skilled paralegal will be able to do this task.
- Attend Legal Functions
A paralegal will attend all legal functions that also include real estate closing, execution of wills, court or administrative hearing, trials with the attorney general and depositions.
- Legal research
A paralegal will perform legal research such as court rulings, regulations of particular legal matters and statutes. The lawyer may also request the ability to summarize this information.
- Preparation of Legal Documents
With the lawyer’s supervision, a paralegal will be able to prepare some specific legal documents. Such documents include deeds, contracts, pleadings, wills, and other routine legal paperwork.
- Task Completion
In most cases, legal work will also have deadlines. That is a document may be required for a court; a contract may be signed or a response to requested information. The paralegal is also responsible for tracking deadlines and some other dates that are important.
- Court Management
Ensuring that appropriate steps are taken in a timely and adequate manner and coordinating all aspects of a case.
These are some of the tasks that a paralegal is expected to do. However, because of the nature of their work, a paralegal may also be asked to do some additional function such as photocopying, typing, witnessing among others.
Why be a Paralegal Instead of a Lawyer?
Are you trying to choose between a career as a lawyer and a career as a paralegal? Both are respectable career options, and both have their good side and the bad side.
Since the 1970’s the paralegal industry also known as a legal assistant has changed in a significant way. Economic necessity, explosive growth, and clients demands have made paralegal a popular career choice, and there has never been a perfect time to become a paralegal. Below are some of the reasons why becoming a paralegal is an excellent choice compared to being a lawyer.
- Rising Pay
In the past decade, paralegal compensation has grown steadily. As the tasks for paralegals continue to increase (some even represent clients in court) so do the earning. The average earning of a paralegal hovers around $50,000 per year though they often make more money through bonuses. Working through overtime hours also adds some few extra coins on top of that.
- Explosive Employment Outlook
Paralegal industry is one of the most rapidly growing fields in the globe today. The statics from the United Stated Berea of labor predicts that the field of legal assistants will grow by 28% between 2008 and 2018. This is much faster than the average for any other occupation. Among the factors that contribute to its rapid growth is the demand for clients to obtain a much cheaper and more efficient delivery of legal services.
Since the hourly rate charged by lawyers are double, or even triple of what is charged by the paralegal for the same task, economics from law firms mandates the increase of paralegal to cut on cost.
- Easy Career Entry
You can become a professional paralegal in as little as some few months of study, unlike lawyers who have to complete seven years of formal education and pass the bar exam to practice law. Moreover, a paralegal can obtain a certificate or degree through a myriad of online program, unlike lawyers who have to attend a brick-and-mortar institution. Paralegals with a bachelor’s degree in any field or legal studies or any other related fields have the most of the employment opportunities
- Rising Prestige
As a paralegal performs more complex and challenging work, there is a rise of paralegal prestige. They are no longer simple lawyer’s assistants; there are assuming more management roles in corporations, entrepreneurial roles in independent private paralegal businesses, and leadership roles in law firms. Over the years, paralegals have become respected members of the legal team.
- Intellectual Challenge
Being a paralegal requires high levels skills since it is intellectual challenging. The most successful paralegals are problem solvers and innovative thinkers. They must be able to remain on top of the ever-changing new trends and laws and developments while interfacing with the opposing counsel, attorneys, clients, staff members and others. Every day brings a new challenge since their work is varied.
How to Become a Paralegal?
If it has always been your wish to become part of the legal profession but it is not within your rich to commit yourself to a law school degree, you should then consider pursuing a paralegal degree program. For those who would wish to pursue a degree in paralegal, there are three options of degree that will help you get into the field.
To be able to enter into any of the three options, you must, at least, have a high school diploma. They include certificate and training program; this may be a good first step into the paralegal field or maybe an option for those with bachelor’s degree in a non-related field. To complete an Associate degree, it may require at least two years of full-time attendance. Bachelors and masters degree have become more attractive to the employers in a job market that are competitive. These degrees will enable you to get top management jobs throughout your career.
In addition to that, you can also work towards an industry recognized certification like Certified paralegal or legal assistant. Most paralegal job requires an internship so do not overlook that, it can help you from becoming an employee from a student.
Types of Career and Job Prospects for Paralegals
- Corporate Paralegal
Corporate paralegals help lawyers with the organization and planning of business matters and corporate transactions. They ensure that the company has all the necessary paperwork (for instance filing with the corporate of state) completed and filed with an applicable state, federal and Security for Exchange commission’s laws for any business. Corporate paralegal must have a good understanding of contract law, banking, investments, securities, and finance.
- Bankruptcy Paralegal
A bankruptcy paralegal navigates as someone who owes money through a process that is approved by the federal that allows him/her to be relieved of that debt by negotiating a debt by the court and the creditors. It can involve some steps that include drafting applications, conducting real property searches to establish known assets and preparing for the hearing. Varying with the degree of complexity some bankruptcy has more steps or even less.
- Personal Injury
Primary duties of a personal injury paralegal include interviewing clients, creating legal records and taking notes, acting as a liaison between the interested parties, ensuring proper documents are filed with the court and in a timely manner and conducting a legal search. Often such cases often lead to a trial.
- Litigation Paralegal
A litigation paralegal work starts with an investigation and discovery into the facts of a case. They may assist in collecting and cataloging files in the case files, and deposing witnesses. The paralegal will also be involved in organizing evidence and exhibits, conducting some research and assisting the lawye establish the case for the client.
- Legal Assistant
Both paralegals and legal assistance both assist lawyers in research and trial preparation. However, only those who have been certified as Certified Legal Assistance from the National Assistance of Legal Assistants can use the title of legal assistant.
How much does a paralegal make?
The average annual salary for a paralegal in America is around $50,000. The lowest paid receive $30,000 / year whilst the highest 10% are on an average salary of over $75,000.