Building a successful law practice requires careful consideration of various factors. One crucial decision is how to allocate administrative, research, and support tasks. In recent years, the roles of paralegals and legal assistants have become more distinct. This article will provide an in-depth look at the role of a paralegal, including the necessary training and skills, expected salary, and day-to-day responsibilities.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a legal professional who works under the supervision of a lawyer. Their responsibilities involve legal research, drafting legal documents, and assisting with client communication. Paralegals typically hold a certificate or degree in paralegal studies, specializing in areas such as corporate law, intellectual property law, or family law. Although they cannot provide legal advice or represent clients in court, paralegals play a vital role in supporting lawyers and ensuring the efficient handling of legal matters.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals are primarily involved in research and litigation-specific paperwork. Successful paralegals possess strong research and organizational skills, pay close attention to detail, and have a basic understanding of legal procedures. They may also be responsible for compiling evidence and assisting with filing appeals. It’s important to note that paralegals have limitations regarding legal practice. They cannot provide legal advice or represent clients in court. However, they can interview clients, draft discovery notices, and prepare certain legal documents related to legal matters and transactions.
Hiring a paralegal to handle substantive tasks is highly beneficial for law firms, as it allows attorneys to focus on other essential responsibilities. Compared to legal assistants, paralegals handle more substantive work and are compensated at a slightly higher rate.
How to Become a Paralegal?
Unlike attorneys, paralegals are not strictly regulated in the U.S. While there are no specific educational requirements, prospective paralegals have various avenues to prepare for this role. The American Bar Association (ABA) approves several paralegal-specific programs, and post-degree certifications are available for individuals with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Seeking additional education and specialization at the bachelor’s level can lead to better career opportunities and increased pay. Thomson Reuters Westlaw offers a Paralegal Certification course, which interested individuals can register for at any time.
How Much Do Paralegals Make?
The average annual salary for paralegals is approximately $57,000, with an hourly wage of around $31.59. Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. offer the highest average wages for paralegals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow faster than average, with approximately 45,800 openings each year. Law firms are increasingly seeking paralegals to reduce billing costs and perform tasks previously assigned to entry-level lawyers, thereby increasing the demand for their services.
What to Consider When Hiring a Paralegal?
When hiring a paralegal, it is essential to prioritize candidates with strong legal research and organizational skills, as well as attention to detail. Continual learning and adaptability are crucial qualities that a paralegal should possess. Law firms should also encourage and facilitate their paralegals’ ongoing education through programs offered by local and statewide paralegal associations. Additionally, finding a paralegal who can anticipate and address potential issues can be highly valuable for law firms.
Resume Tips for Paralegal Candidates
Prospective paralegal candidates should tailor their resumes to appeal to law professionals. A clean, well-edited, and professional-looking resume demonstrates attention to detail, a valuable quality for a paralegal position. Emphasize internships, previous work experience, and relevant courses on the resume. Highlighting involvement in academic organizations or team-oriented activities can also showcase valuable skills.
Legal Assistant vs. Paralegal
While paralegals and legal assistants have some overlapping responsibilities, there are key distinctions. Paralegals have more extensive legal education and training and are involved in tasks such as legal research, drafting legal documents, and assisting with client communication. On the other hand, legal assistants focus primarily on administrative and clerical tasks, such as managing documents and files, scheduling appointments and court dates, and communicating with clients and other parties involved in legal matters. It’s worth noting that the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” may be used interchangeably depending on the jurisdiction and employer.
Paralegals are crucial members of the legal profession who possess a basic understanding of the law, research skills, organizational abilities, and attention to detail. Although there are no strict educational requirements, various programs and certifications are available for prospective paralegals. The average salary for paralegals is $57,000 per year, with steady growth expected in the field. When hiring a paralegal, firms should consider their legal research and organizational skills, willingness to learn, and ability to anticipate and mitigate potential issues. Tailoring a resume to highlight relevant experience and skills can increase the chances of securing a paralegal position.