Do you have sharp analytical and organizational skills, and an amazing ability to pay close and consistent attention to the smallest details? Do you have outstanding written and verbal communication skills? Are you interested in the field of law? If you answered yes to these questions, perhaps you should consider starting a career as a paralegal. In this article, we will discuss what you need to do to become a paralegal in the state of California.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
A paralegal’s duties will vary according to his or her specific workplace, as well as the area of law in which he or she is working. It is possible, however, to provide a list of some of the paralegal’s most common duties. The paralegal must provide assistance to attorneys in the preparation of hearings, trials, and closings; carry out legal research; gather information for cases; identify relevant legal articles, judicial decisions, and laws; analyze gathered information; write formal reports; prepare presentations; carry out client interviews; write memos or summaries of client testimony; draft legal documents, including letters, pleadings, pretrial orders, deposition notices, legal briefs, interrogatories, subpoenas, complaints, and other important documents; carry out administrative tasks, such as organization of files, answering the phone, keeping the attorney’s schedule, calling clients, court personnel, experts, witnesses and lawyers; schedule trials, depositions, meetings, hearings, and interviews; make travel arrangements; accompany the attorney at court and administrative hearings, real estate closings, will executions, depositions, and trials.
As we mentioned earlier, paralegals can find work in many types of legal offices. As most attorneys specialize in one area (for example, family law, criminal law, or one of the many other areas of law), the paralegal(s) working in their offices will work within that specialty, as well. As an example of the specialized duties of a paralegal working in an attorney’s office, let’s go over some of the most common duties of a paralegal working in a family law office. Family law paralegals frequently must complete the process of client intake; deal with clients who are upset and emotionally distraught in a kind and empathetic manner; prepare petitions; prepare for final hearings; locate witnesses; send requests for production of evidence; meticulously keep track of and properly file all paperwork and documents; deal with a great deal of paperwork on a daily basis, such as client correspondence, medical bills, docket sheets, and income tax returns; prepare and carry out discovery; carry out intensive investigation; ensure that clients are communicated with on a regular and frequent basis; collect documents and evidence from clients; gather general information; answer client questions; open files for new clients; provide clients with the attorney’s engagement or welcome letter, as well as his or her fee agreement; collect retainers; enter clients into the office’s billing and accounting system; keep careful track of hearing dates; prepare initial pleadings; prepare responses; file documents with the courts; prepare asset and debt lists; line up witnesses; communicate and consult with doctors, bank personnel, accountants, financial officers, and other professionals; carry out general management of the legal office; write memorandums and briefs; carry out legal research; prepare and issue subpoenas; carry out other general work relating to questions of child support, child custody, division of assets, and court order violations; carry out intensive investigation into income, assets, expenses, lifestyle, and habits of the parties involved; prepare responsive pleadings; prepare witness affidavits; prepare child support worksheets; mail proceedings to appropriate courts; file documents in person at the office of the court Clerk; clean out and close the files of former clients; carry out general office duties, such as answering the phone; and conducting several other duties as the need arises.
As you can see, the job of a paralegal is a challenging one! You will never be bored, and you will have the chance to make full use of your well-developed analytical and organizational skills. Aattorney’s engagement or welcome letter, as well as his or her fee agreement; collect retainers; enter clients into the office’s billing and accounting system; keep careful track of hearing dates
In California, paralegals can be found in many different industries. While such professionals are primarily found in legal services and government employment, paralegals are also employed in educational support services, natural resource development and management, and software management. Paralegals generally work in a comfortable office environment. Law firms are by far the most common employers of paralegals. However, it may surprise you what a diversity of employers actually have opportunities for paralegals in California. Possibly surprising examples include places such as Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, Kaufman Dolowich Voluck LLP in Los Angeles, Toshiba America Information Systems in Irvine, All State Corporate in Glendale, County of Riverside, Lam Research in Fremont, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in Newport Beach, Celino & Barnes in Los Angeles, Department of the Army in Sacramento, St. Jude Medical in Sylmar, and Whalen Bryan Inc. in Santa Barbara.
Paralegals work in a wide variety of areas, including, for example, litigation, labor law, immigration law, family law, bankruptcy law, business law, and many others.
What Qualities Do I Need for a Successful Career as a Paralegal?
• Outstanding research skills: Strong research skills are essential for a successful career as a paralegal.
• Strong interpersonal skills: Paralegals must have excellent interpersonal skills.
• Excellent organizational skills: Excellent organizational skills are essential in a career as a paralegal. Poor organizational skills are simply not tolerated in this field.
• Highly developed communication skills: Excellent skills in the areas of speaking, listening, writing, and reading are essential in this career.
• Computer skills: Paralegals need strong computer skills.
• Ability to pay close and consistent attention to detail: The ability to pay close and consistent attention to detail is absolutely crucial as a paralegal. Making a small mistake can lead to one of your attorney’s clients losing his or her case!
• Ability to think “on your feet”: Successful paralegals are able to think quickly, and have excellent problem solving skills
In order to work as a paralegal in California, you will need to fulfill at least one of the following requirements:
• Successful completion of a paralegal certificate program. The program must be approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
• Completion of a paralegal education program that is at least 24 semester units in length.
• A bachelor’s degree, together with at least one year of law-related experience. This experience must be completed under the supervision of a three-year California-licensed lawyer or a lawyer who works in the federal courts of California.
In order to get into a paralegal education program, you will at least need a high school diploma or equivalent. Different programs will have different prerequisites, and some will require you to have an undergraduate degree. Make sure to check the requirements of the specific school or institution before applying. While it is true that you will likely be given specific instruction in the area of writing skills during your paralegal education, it will benefit you to ensure that you writing skills are reasonably well-developed before beginning your education and training in this area. Do not underestimate how well the paralegal has to write! It is essential to write in a meticulously accurate manner.
What will you learn about in your paralegal education program? Your paralegal education and training program will provide you with instruction in everything you will need to know in every area of the law, including, for example, tort law, intellectual property law, family law, criminal law, contract law, and business law. You will receive intense instruction on documents and procedures, as well as general writing and research, to ensure that your skills in these areas are top notch.
You may also choose to get national certification, by writing and passing the national NALA Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and California Advanced Specialty (CAS) exams. When you pass these exams, you will be referred to as a California Advanced Specialist. This can be helpful in making you stand out from other job applicants. Other exams you can write include the PP, which is offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS); the PCC, which is offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA); the PACE, which is offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA); and the CLA/CP, which is offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
There are several professional organizations and associations for paralegals in California. One is the California Alliance of Paralegal Association (CAPA) (an association which has many regional affiliates), and another is the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization. You should join this latter association if you wish to prepare for the California Advanced Specialty exam, or if you have already completed this exam.
Paralegals are required to complete eight hours of continuing education every two years. Four of those hours must be in the area of ethics.
Some paralegals decide not to take a regular job but rather work as a freelance paralegal (also called a contract paralegal). Freelance paralegals work for a number of different attorneys, preparing legal documentation and carrying out other common paralegal tasks. As a freelance paralegal, you may choose to specialize in one area of law, and only work for attorneys who practice in that area. In order to be successful as a freelance paralegal, you will need to market your services to attorneys. It is highly advisable to get some experience working as a paralegal in a traditional arrangement before venturing out on your own as a freelance paralegal.
Practicing Independently as a Paralegal
Not all paralegals work for an attorney. In fact, as a paralegal, you will have the option of not even working for someone else at all! As a paralegal, you can start your own independent practice as a non-attorney who prepares legal documentation. Many such paralegals also refer to themselves as forms practitioners and legal documents preparers. Examples of documents commonly dealt with by independent paralegals include probate and estate planning documents, deeds, powers of attorney, uncontested divorce forms, and bankruptcy petitions. As an independently practicing paralegal, you will need to always ensure that you are not inadvertently practicing the law. This means, for example, that you are not allowed to provide legal advice to clients.
If you decide to start your own independent practice as a paralegal, you will need to cover all the costs and deal with all the issues that can arise when starting a business. You will need to market your services, in order to build up a client base and ensure your continued success. Independent paralegals often advertise in newspapers, and use the internet and social media to let people know about their services. When advertising, make sure to always comply with California law through making clear that you are not an attorney, and cannot provide the services that an attorney him or herself would provide.
If you dream of practicing as an independent paralegal one day, you should keep in mind that it is advisable to get some experience working in a more traditional setting before embarking on this journey.
In 2015, paralegals had an average salary of $59,800 per year in California. Most paralegals work on a full-time basis, and the majority of full-time paralegals are given medical (and often other) benefits by their employers. Below are the median paralegal salaries for various cities and towns in California:
Los Angeles: $56,685
San Diego: $55,004
San Jose: $61,022
Santa Barbara: $54,539
San Francisco: $63,132
Santa Clara: $61,022
Paralegal Job Growth Information
Job growth in this field is equal to the average of other professions. There are more paralegals in California than in any other place in the United States!
“Paralegals and Legal Assistants,” http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
“Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies,” http://extension.berkeley.edu/cert/paralegal.html