A paralegal is a person who performs legal work. They assist an attorney with the attorney’s duties. Most of the time, they have formal legal training. They’re not a licensed attorney, and they can’t appear in court. However, they can assist an attorney with many of their duties.
A lawyer can use a paralegal’s work as their own. A paralegal performs many of the functions of a lawyer in order to make the attorney’s work more manageable. They also handle some of the less complicated office tasks so that the attorney can focus on the big picture.
What does a paralegal do?
Attorneys rely on their paralegals to make their practice manageable. Paralegals perform complicated legal research, and they draft legal briefs and memoranda. They write complaints and respond to motions from the opposing party. Paralegals interact with clients and the courts. Depending on the needs of the attorney they work for, they might also help the attorney with routine office tasks like stocking supplies, scheduling and office management.
Paralegals benefit both attorneys and clients
Paralegals perform an important service in a law firm. They handle matters that the attorney can handle, and they help the attorneys manage their cases and schedules. However, the law firm typically charges a lower rate to the client for a paralegal’s services than they charge for an attorney’s services. Using a paralegal for routine work can help keep the costs down for the client.
In addition to keeping legal services affordable, a paralegal can free an attorney up to take on more cases. When they have someone to do some of the legal work and draft routine documents, they can spend their time working on complex matters and appearing in court. This can ultimately result in more billable hours for the attorney, a larger practice and larger profit margins.
Steps to becoming a paralegal
Step 1- Do the best you can in your high school English classes
Step 2- Graduate from high school
Step 3- Attend a College paralegal program
Step 4- Complete an internship
Step 5- Create a great resume with examples of your work
Step 6- Apply for jobs
Step 1 – Do the best you can in your high school English classes
O’Net OnLine reports that paralegals rely heavily on their English skills. They draft documents that go to the courts. Busy attorneys must rely on their paralegals to draft documents that are worthy of filing in court.
Paralegals must know the parts of speech, sentence construction and spelling. Paralegals also must know how to read laws and rules and apply them effectively. The reading and writing that you learn in high school English can provide a solid foundation for the skills that you need to become a great paralegal.
Step 2 – Graduate from high school
To become a paralegal, you must graduate from high school. Most states don’t have an official requirement that you must graduate from high school, however, as a practical matter, anyone wanting to become a paralegal should treat their high school diploma as a must. In addition to needing to put the high school diploma on your resume, you also need the skills that you learn in high school.
In high school, you learn math skills that help you run an office. You learn communication skills that you depend on to interact with clients and manage the attorney’s schedule and court appearances. A high school diploma is critical to showing employers that you have the skills you need to do your job well.
Step 3 – Attend a college paralegal program
The vast majority of paralegals get some kind of formal legal training. They attend a paralegal school in order to learn the specific skills that they need for their work. They graduate from paralegal school with the skills and the pedigree to successfully work in the profession.
The requirements to attend a paralegal school vary depending on the school. You need to have a high school diploma, complete an application and submit proof of your grades. You may need to take the SAT or the ACT test.
Some schools have a relatively open admissions policy. They’ll admit anyone who meets their minimum requirements. Other schools are selective. You might need to have great grades and a competitive standardized test score.
You might graduate from paralegal school with a certificate of completion, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. The higher the level of your degree, the more in-depth training you have for your career. In addition, the more advanced your degree, the stronger it looks on a resume. A bachelor’s degree is a great plus when it comes to impressing a potential employer.
In college, you fine tune your writing skills. You become familiar with popular research databases like Lexis and Westlaw. You’ll learn legal terms and court rules. Some classes might help you learn how to run a business and use office software. Your formal education should give you the skills you need to launch your career and the confidence that you need in order to arrive at your first day at work feeling prepared.
Step 4 – Complete an internship
Doing an internship is a great way to build your resume, gain practical experience and spend time with a potential employer. Even though you’ll learn a great deal in college, there’s no substitute for real-world experience. In a learning capacity, you’ll be able to see how a law firm handles all of the aspects of representing a client.
You’ll get to test drive a legal specialty to see if it’s right for you. If the employer can’t hire you at the end of your internship, they might refer you to other attorneys that are hiring. They might also provide a reference or a letter of recommendation.
Step 5 – Create a great resume with examples of your work
When you apply for a job, you need to have a great application package. Because paralegal work is skilled work, the attorneys you might work with want to see and evaluate your work. You need a few examples of legal documents that you’ve drafted. You can get examples from your schoolwork or from your internship.
Step 6 – Apply for jobs
It’s time to send out applications. Take the time to consider what kind of employment you want. If you have a preferred legal specialty, you can narrow your search. Think about any geographic limitations that you have on where you can work.
Be sure to tell family and friends that you’re looking for a job. Remember that small firms might have hiring practices that are somewhat informal. You might need to look on multiple websites or even in the local newspaper to find job postings.
Work environment for paralegals
Paralegals work in an office setting. However, they might also have to drive documents to the court. They might occasionally go to court with an attorney in order to assist them with matters or take notes.
Paralegals usually arrive at the office in the morning and stay there for the day. They spend a lot of time sitting, but they might also have to file paperwork. They also spend a lot of time interacting with clients in person, on the phone and through email. Legal cases are often highly emotional. Paralegals can expect clients to occasionally be upset. Paralegals must have the patience to handle these situations, and they must learn how to manage their own emotions as they handle difficult situations for their clients.
Jobs for paralegals
Paralegals work throughout the United States. They work at large firms in large cities, and they work in very small towns. Part-time work may be available depending on the needs of the employer. A paralegal may work for the same employer for many years.
Some paralegals also work for the court systems. They assist judges with research and case management. In small court systems, a paralegal might also serve as a court recorder.
Key skills required for paralegals
O*Net OnLine says that the following skills are critical for success as a paralegal:
- Software – Paralegals should be confident with case research, word processing, business and client management.
- Troubleshooting skills – A paralegal might have to fix the printer or reboot the phone network.
- An understanding of law and government – You must know where to file legal documents and how to comply with applicable court rules.
- Customer service – You’re often the first person that a new client sees. You may have more interaction with the clients on a regular basis than the attorney.
- Listening – You can’t solve client needs unless you can understand them in detail.
- Speaking – You need to make phone calls and speak with a variety of individuals including court personnel.
- Writing – Paralegals draft legal documents. They’re often critically important to the client’s case.
- Vision – Expect to spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen and pouring over legal documents.
- Management – You’re an attorney’s right hand. You need to be able to help the attorneys manage their time effectively and keep track of appointments.
- Sitting for long periods of time – When you’re working on something important, you’ll spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk.
How to choose a school
You should base your choice of paralegal school on your specific needs and goals. If you’re able to earn a degree from a reputable school, it can help you advance your career options. If you need to stay close to home, you might choose your local community college. Your budget, your needs, and your goals should all play a role in choosing the right school for you.
Job growth and career opportunities
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal jobs are going to increase by as much as 15 percent in the next 10 years which is much higher than average growth for other jobs. There are approximately 285,600 paralegals in the United States.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that paralegals make an average of $49,500 per year. The exact amount varies widely by the size of the law firm and the size of the city. A paralegal may or may not receive benefits from their employer.
Why become a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal is a great career choice for people who like to read and write. If you enjoy an office setting and you have people skills, you’ll enjoy the work and the work environment. Paralegals often enjoy a stable career and the appreciation of the attorneys they work with as well as the gratitude of the clients they assist.