Why are Paralegals the Backbone of the Modern Law Office?

When most people think about the legal profession, thoughts of lawyers arguing in court or representing clients comes to mind. Popular television shows and movies depict attorneys fiercely defending their clients or working hard to convict criminals. From the “Judge Judy” reality to Andy Griffith playing the iconic Ben Matlock of “Matlock,” it’s easy to envision popular lawyers.

The same level of popular culture exposure cannot be said of the paralegal field. Despite this, they are the true unsung heroes of the modern law office. For example, for every team of television lawyers, there would be dozens more paralegals working behind the scenes to ensure a case was won. Attorneys today would not be able to handle the caseloads or perform the duties they do without a dedicated team of paralegals supporting them.

Paralegal talking to lawyer

A paralegal career offers numerous opportunities for people to make real differences in communities or legal sectors. People who are passionate about legal matters do not have to pursue a law degree in order to make an impact in the field. With a master’s degree in paralegal studies, many graduates find meaningful work in the industry. Here are just a few of the many reasons paralegals are the backbone of the modern law office:

They perform many of the same duties as attorneys

Lawyers and paralegals perform many of the same jobs in the office. Both conduct research, prepare legal documentation, meet with clients and investigate cases. They both work long hours on typically short deadlines, which makes it the ideal field for anyone who loves a challenge and doesn’t ever want to be bored on the job. Depending on the size of the firm, attorneys and paralegals may work closely on cases.

For some larger offices, there may be hierarchies in responsibilities for certain paralegals with exceptional levels of industry experience and knowledge. While both roles work hard, paralegals often do a lot of the legal legwork for attorneys, such as preparing court documentation and writing reports that will support lawyers in court. This hits on the the primary difference between paralegals and attorneys: paralegals cannot defend clients in court or provide legal advice.

Aside from not being able to give legal advice and defend clients in court, other differences include salary and education. Lawyers usually complete a bachelor’s degree in political science or a related field and then go on to law school, which usually takes around three years to complete. Meanwhile, paralegals usually enter a two-year or four-year college program, though a bachelor’s or master’s degree is quickly becoming the norm in the field.

They have direct influence in changes in their profession

The paralegal field has undergone many changes since the role’s inception. At first, many paralegals served as legal assistants or secretaries, yet now many paralegals are rising through the ranks, adding additional responsibilities and seeing salary bumps. With the advent of modern technology, many paralegals are also having direct impacts on their law offices by using electronic filing systems and software tools to push their firms into the 21st century.

One notable paralegal, Charlene Sabini, had a significant influence on the field when she persuaded her local Bar Association in Oregon to extend “affiliated membership” to non-lawyer support professionals, which let them have more access to education opportunities and greater visibility in the legal community. Her efforts helped paralegals network with attorneys more easily and be recognized as valuable members of the legal arena.

She reflected on her experience in an article last year titled “Making a Difference 101″ where she wrote, “The growth of the legal assistant/paralegal profession is now, in some firms, greater than merely a secretarial slot. We are no longer simply assistants to a profession — we are a profession unto ourselves.”

They are invaluable assets to any law firm

As mentioned previously, paralegals are the true backbone of any law office today. They might not be the ones debating on behalf of clients in court, but they are the ones building the cases through careful research. They might not be the one giving legal advice, but they are the ones organizing client meetings, communicating with everyone from clients to judges to other attorneys. Paralegals are the dedicated employees who keep offices running smoothly.

Paralegals with experience and ambition may go far at any firm if they are willing to work hard and take on multiple responsibilities. Every organization, from private corporations to government agencies to law firms, need reliable, passionate paralegals to spearhead projects and teams of other paralegals. Many law firms are hiring more paralegals today because they perform many of the same duties as attorneys.

Paralegals have their hands in nearly every area of the law office or department. From handling client interviews alongside, or under the supervision of, attorneys to analyzing clients’ legal issues to speaking with witnesses, experts and clients. Paralegals are both the catalyst and finisher for any case. What this means is that they are the dedicated employees keeping casework on track, allowing attorneys to prepare for trial or ligation.

They usually possess exceptional organizational skills so that they can catalog past cases and keep track of multiple projects and cases their firm is actively working on. They are invaluable assets to every firm in that they are able to adapt to a wide array of situations and keep attorneys and other paralegals informed about any new legal development. Additionally, they also must know when it is best to seek advice from attorneys and when it is appropriate to provide their own suggestions.

A gavel and law books

Paralegals are some of the true heroes of the modern law firm. Are you ready to make a career move into the legal arena? Maybe you already work in the field but want to advance your career prospects? Anyone looking to make a career change or further their career advancement opportunities should consider George Washington University’s Master’s in Paralegal Studies online program.

As one of the few paralegal master’s degrees in the country, the program will equip current or future paralegals with the skills, experience and knowledge they need to succeed. Contact one of our program representatives today to learn more about our rigorous curriculum exploring knowledge related to the legal field, along with our flexible online offerings to meet the needs of your schedule.











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