Overview of Paralegal Job Duties and Responsibilities

Paralegals are important members in law firms across the United States. Law work is complex and detailed, and legal experts utilize these professionals to manage the heavy workloads they encounter regularly. Analysts predict that the paralegal career will grow on par with the national average, with paralegals finding work in many disciplines. Most firms require entry-level paralegals to possess a bachelor’s degree and paralegal certification; however, there are other ways to enter the field.

The Modern Paralegal

Paralegal workers are administrative support assistants who work specifically for law professionals. Their work may include storing, organizing and retrieving information; legal research; and legal document preparation. A lawyer may also task a paralegal with gathering critical case evidence such as affidavits and other recorded statements to use during a hearing.

Within the law practice; rules, regulations and guidelines change constantly. Therefore, lawyers also depend on paralegals to verify that the firm is making decisions based on current standards. Paralegals also handle standard office administrative duties such as appointment setting and managing incoming and outgoing office communications such as phone and mail messages. Additionally, firms trust paralegals with composing important documents that the firm will use in legal proceedings. Many paralegals use the position as a steppingstone to a career in law practice. In this field, paralegals mirror lawyers and can observe and learn how to practice law.

Career Outlook for Paralegals

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that paralegal job openings will grow 8 percent between 2014 and 2024. Law and paralegal career tracks are popular career choices in the United States. As such, the BLS predicts that the paralegal field will remain competitive during this period.

Law practice is constantly evolving. Recently, law practitioners and firms have turned their attention to operational efficiencies. This has caused the practitioners to slowly merge two distinct professions; paralegals and law assistants. As firms continue this practice, they will attempt to accomplish more legal work with fewer staff members. The movement toward merging the paralegal and law assistant roles results directly from firms’ desire to reduce client fees. Accordingly, firms also employ paralegals to perform many tasks formerly completed by entry-level lawyers.

Law firms are not the only available employers for paralegals. Paralegals can also find significant opportunities in the corporate sector. Corporations have realized savings by operating their own in-house legal departments rather than keeping outside law firms on retainer. The BLS forecasts that this trend will trickle over into the finance, insurance and health care industries. Overall, the demand for paralegals parallels the United States’ general economic well-being.

The Diverse Paralegal Job Market

Paralegal services are in demand across multiple law practice types; a paralegal may find employment in several different disciplines such as:

  • litigation administration
  • legal process
  • medical malpractice
  • probate
  • trust and estate planning
  • immigration
  • family law
  • real estate law
  • human resource law
  • and other fields

The paralegal job field evolves with the law industry. Organizations, such as The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS), serve as focal points that paralegal career seekers can go to for current industry information. These sites cater to prospective and current paralegals. Career and networking opportunities can also be found on the trade organizations’ websites.

Becoming a Paralegal

To begin on the path to a paralegal career, prospective law professionals can begin at a two-year college. While a two-year college provides the foundation for paralegal studies, most firms prefer entry-level paralegals to have a four-year degree. Few schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Therefore, paralegal hopefuls often have a degree in a different major complemented with a paralegal certification. Most paralegal certificate programs service graduate students. Existing paralegal programs offer training in law research, writing and information technology. These programs may also teach corporate and international law.

In some cases, firms will hire a paralegal without law experience or training. These employers hire the candidates because they have experience in a specific field. The firms then train the employees in paralegal work on-the-job. Most employers seek paralegal candidates who have worked at least one year in some law field. Internships are one way paralegal hopefuls can gain this experience. In addition, prospective paralegals must also possess excellent communication skills, computer proficiency and the ability to work well with others.

 In Summary

Paralegals provide critical administrative support to law professionals across the country. These firms count on paralegals to help them handle large work volumes where there is little room for error. Government agencies forecast a positive job growth outlook for paralegals. These law assistants can find work in many industries due to the movement across many industries to host in-house counsel as a cost-cutting measure. Although paralegals must earn specific credentials to enter the field, some employers are willing to train paralegals in the workplace if they have the right background.

Learn More

One of a select few paralegal master’s degrees in the country and designed specifically for working professionals, GW’s online paralegal studies programs can take you where you want to be: in a rewarding career with real earning potential. Designed by experts, the GW Paralegal Studies programs provide advanced credentials to foster career growth and boost earning potential.

Sources

http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

http://www.theiop.org/careers/become-a-qualified-paralegal/am-i-suited-to-being-a-paralegal.html

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice.html

http://www.agilelaw.com/2015/08/5-most-important-paralegal-traits/

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