The task of legal assistants and paralegals is to assist lawyers conduct a wide range of tasks. They help during meetings, closings and trials. The lawyers may take responsibility and ownership for all legal work but they need help. Legal assistants and paralegals assume important positions in legal offices all over country and perform several tasks that are traditionally done by lawyers.
That being said, they are still prohibited from performing duties that fall under the practice of law. This may include setting legal fees and giving legal advice. It also includes presentation of cases in court. They can verify details and research facts of cases to make sure all points have been covered. They are also able to identify judicial decisions, appropriate laws, legal articles, etc. that are related to a particular case.
In simple words, saying that their job is to aid lawyers in everyday office activities like answering phone calls and paperwork would summarize duties of legal assistants and paralegals. They are individuals, who may not be as qualified as professional lawyers, but possess some knowledge in the relevant field. Their service is valuable as they handle certain duties and save time for professionals. They may provide freelance service, but most of them usually work at law offices.
Simple duties in this profession entail handling paperwork, managing databases, scheduling, organizing files, etc. As an array of work requires attention in the same period of time, it is important for the paralegals and legal assistants to be able to multitask. Their working hours is the same as regular business hours – Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm. They must be computer-trained and have knowledge of a few documentation certification programs.
Even though paralegals and legal assistants do not have the degree or position as lawyers, their role at office is critical. Lawyers would not have the time required to do everything without help. When legal assistants organize documents and help prepare for cases, the lawyers get time to address more important issues. Sometimes, after obtaining years of experience, some paralegals and legal assistants move on and become lawyers. An outline of the basic on-the-job duties have been provided below:
- Collect and study research data including legal articles, statutes, decisions, codes and documents.
- Prepare documents such as affidavits, maintain file, and file pleadings with court clerk.
- Prepare briefs, appeals, pleadings, real-estate closing statements, wills, contracts and other legal documents.
- Investigate various claims and facts, and law of cases to identify causes of action.
- Assist the supervising lawyers by researching legal precedent and investigating facts.
Therefore, communication and interpersonal skills are essential qualities of anyone who wants to succeed in this position. The job involves documentation and presentation of research information to supervising lawyer. As a lot of time is spent in meetings with clients, legal assistants and paralegals should make clients feel comfortable enough to share personal information. One of the most important traits is to have good research and investigation skills. In addition, the professional must be expert in using computers to conduct research and litigation. Organization and maintenance of documents can also be done digitally. This is more efficient as paralegals often have to work on many cases at a time. Quick changes in deadlines are a part of their job.
In order to pursue this profession, an individual can take various paths. While most of them obtain an associate’s degree in relevant field, a bachelor’s degree in any field will help get a good job. You can also get a certificate in paralegal studies. If you are interested, you can enroll in a certificate program at a local community college. However, many employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree. There are very few schools that offer paralegal studies for bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. This is why most people prefer to get the degree in other subjects and then obtain a paralegal studies certificate.
If you enroll in a certificate program, you will find that the courses are designed to train students in legal research and writing. You will also learn legal application of computers. The courses will also teach you academic subjects such as international law and corporate law. The certificate programs offer in-depth training to people who already have college degrees.
Sometimes, employers hire fresh college graduate who have no legal education or experience. Many times, the new recruit possesses experiences in technical fields, which might help a law firm. This includes experience in nursing, criminal justice or tax preparation.Many employers prefer candidates to have minimum 1-year work experience in an office setting, preferably a law firm. Technical understanding of the legal specialty can help as well. The experience is particularly important for those who do not have formal training in the field.
There are several certificate training programs for paralegals, which offer internship. These cater the students by providing practical experience, as they have to work in a private law firm or company’s legal department for a period of time. This opportunity will help enhance your technical skills and also increase chances of getting employment at a great company.
Certifications are not a necessity but some employers seek applicants who have completed certification programs for paralegal studies. There is a wide range of local and international companies that provide such certification opportunities to students. Voluntary paralegal certifications are awarded to those who pass an exam. Some organizations offer the certifications for paralegals that meet the education and experience criteria.
The annual salary of legal assistants and paralegals nationwide is $48,810. You can earn about $23.47 per hour. The wage rate is great, especially because entry in the industry is not very difficult. You can get a job with only an associate’s degree. An 8% increase in number of jobs is expected between 2014 and 2024. This means there will be 21,200 new positions within the next few years.