Changing the Legal Landscape
GW Paralegal Studies Infographic: The Changing Legal Landscape – Evolution of the Paralegal
The paralegal profession has evolved significantly since its origin in the 1970s. While paralegals originally assisted attorneys in a secretarial capacity by formatting legal documents, they have since assumed substantive roles in legal offices, the government and corporations both large and small. Little by little, paralegals have become savvier, more educated, and more professional. Today paralegals are fully contributing members of legal teams.
Back in the early days of the profession, paralegals were either people who had fallen into the field by accident, like the secretaries who learned to format legal documents, or they were people who were stopping in for a few years on their way to law school. Now people are choosing the profession deliberately and with purpose; and they are staying in the profession.
The level of education has increased, too. There was a time when anyone with a high school diploma could get a position as a paralegal. Now, paralegals are highly educated. Virtually all new paralegals have at least a bachelor’s degree and most have post baccalaureate certificates or even master’s degrees.
What Do Paralegals Do?
Being a paralegal is now an aspirational profession. People in government agencies, corporations, and legal offices yearn to be paralegals and plot courses to gain those positions. They go back to school, they join organizations to network, they seek career counseling. Paralegals cannot sign pleadings, argue a case in court or give legal advice, but they can handle many substantive tasks under an attorney’s supervision, such as:
- Perform legal research and client interviews
- Record information for databases
- Establish a network of expert witnesses
- Communicate with clients and other attorneys
- Organize calendars and track deadlines
- Assist on pro bono cases
In The Business
It may go without saying that most paralegals are employed in legal capacities, but this is not the extent of their career utility. Two hundred thousand of the quarter-million paralegals employed in the United States work in legal services, but fourteen thousand work in local government and thirteen thousand work for the federal executive branch. Professional expansion has driven a new career path for top performers to assume the role of Paralegal Manager, overseeing teams of paralegals and contributing in a strategic capacity. Currently, figures estimate over six thousand paralegals work in management positions.
A paralegal can have as many specializations as an attorney can. From contracts to torts to insurance to family law, it is possible to hire a paralegal who can help with your legal issue or the type of law that a firm will focus on practicing.
To learn more about the changing landscape of the legal system and the paralegal profession, created by George Washington University, take a look at the infographic below.
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