PARALEGAL JOB DESCRIPTION
Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for client meetings and trials. The two terms are used interchangeably, similar to lawyer and attorney. They write contracts, research case backgrounds and laws, schedule meetings, interview witnesses and clients, file documents and prepare evidence.
Legal assistants can specialize in various concentrations such as family law, real estate, litigation, personal injury, criminal law, corporate law, bankruptcy and immigration. Paralegals are often employed full time and work in an office setting with occasional travel to gather information.
Skills of a successful paralegal include writing, communicating, organizing, researching and investigating. Legal assistants must also be proficient with specific computer databases and software to organize casework.
HOW TO BECOME A PARALEGAL
Paralegals must have at least an associate degree or certificate in paralegal studies. Many also hold a bachelor’s degree and have experience in a subject useful to a law firm, such as accounting or criminal justice. Certifications are not technically required, however most only take a few months to complete and help make an applicant more highly sought after.
The average pay for a paralegal is $46,000 per year. The top 10 percent, however, can earn more than $75,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal government pays paralegals the most, at an average yearly salary of $62,000. Finance and insurance firms are second averaging $52,000 each year. Local and state governments and legal services all pay in the $40,000 range.
There are about 277,000 legal assistants employed in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72 percent of paralegals are employed with legal firms, while other paralegals work for the government and financial firms. The field is expected to rapidly grow 17 percent. Law firms are streamlining their operations and budgets by hiring fewer lawyers and more paralegals. Large corporations are also developing bigger legal departments in-house to save money on outside legal fees.