What is a Paralegal?

28 Dec 2015

What is a Paralegal?

Paralegals and legal assistants perform legal work and are integral to the criminal justice system.  They support lawyers and can work in any facet of law.  Paralegals are often good communicators, skilled researchers, strong writers, and excellent negotiators.

Paralegals are employed anywhere there is a need for legal work such as:

  • Private law firm
  • District Attorney’s office
  • Legal clinics
  • Private corporations
  • Government agencies
  • Banks
  • Insurance agencies
  • Courts

Paralegals are assigned to tasks based on their level of experience or education. They typically work in support of a lawyer, but often maintain their own caseloads.

Many paralegals are generalists, meaning they perform an array of different responsibilities. But paralegals can also specialize in different facets of law such as litigation, employee benefits, real estate, immigration, medical, government, or corporate. Some specialize in a particular field based on past education or work experience. For example, a person with medical training would be a good fit to handle legal work at a private hospital or health insurance company. Paralegals can also serve as counselors and advocates to their clients.

Paralegals have a large range of responsibilities including:

  • Investigating cases
  • Writing legal arguments
  • Gathering evidence
  • Meeting with clients or witnesses
  • Researching laws and regulations
  • Maintaining office administration tasks
  • Fact-checking
  • Assisting in a trial
  • Filing briefs, appeals, and other legal documents


Paralegals must have at least a certificate in paralegal studies from an accredited program. Certificate programs can be completed in just a few months. However, employers are more opt to hire paralegals with not only a paralegal certificate, but with an associate or bachelor’s degree as well. However, these degrees don’t necessarily have to be focused on legal studies. Internships and other legal work experience are also highly coveted by employers. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ 2001 Paralegal Compensation and Benefits Report stated nationwide 25% of all paralegals have an associate degree and 49% have a bachelor’s degree. It also reported that 83% of all paralegals have paralegal training or a certificate in addition to a college degree.

Paralegals are in high demand. Law firms are increasingly hiring more paralegals to streamline efficiency and business expenses to make legal costs affordable for the general population. Jobs are expected to grow 17 percent, faster than the average occupation. There are expected to be more than 46,000 paralegal jobs added in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries for paralegals are substantial and growing. The top 10 percent of paralegals earn a salary of more than $75,000. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ 2001 Paralegal Compensation and Benefits Report indicated a high salary of $114,000. The majority of paralegals also have employment benefits of life and health insurance and paid professional dues to maintain standing as a paralegal.

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