What Does a Paralegal Do?
Ever wondered if there’s a way to work in the field of law without going to law school? A paralegal is an in-demand job that provides just such an opportunity.
Paralegals, also called legal assistants, organize legal documents, gather information about cases and assist lawyers during trials and hearings. Their detailed research and strong organizational skills help attorneys prepare for trial.
Their skills are needed in all areas of law, from personal injury to corporate law, and many paralegals specialize. Most paralegals work for law firms and government agencies. The smaller the law office, the more varied a paralegal’s daily routine is likely to be. In bigger offices, paralegals are more likely to specialize.
If you like digging into the details, this is a promising career with plenty of job growth expected. Sound like a good fit for you? Keep reading to learn more.
- Conduct client interviews
- Locate and interview witnesses
- Do research and track down information
- Draft legal documents
- Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
- Summarize depositions and testimony
- Attend legal hearings
- File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems, often using specific legal software
How To Become a Paralegal: FAQs
What education and training steps should students take?
Students can earn an associate degree in paralegal studies or law and legal studies from a community college. Accredited programs often provide a bridge to internships, which is one of the best ways to get hands-on experience.
An associate degree is the most common path to becoming a paralegal or legal assistant, but it’s not the only one. (That’s part of the reason why paralegal is one of SkillPointe’s top-paying jobs for community college students.)
Some employers require a bachelor’s degree, though that degree can be in another subject. In that scenario, students need to earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Certificate studies offer a deep dive in paralegal training.
Program courses in either path are likely to include legal research and writing, contracts and torts, ethical communication, legal technology and highlights of common areas of expertise, such as international, corporate, family or real estate law.
Additional training may be needed for electronic database management.
In rare cases, a firm will hire a college graduate with no legal education and train them to the company standard.
Are there any other qualifications?
Most states don’t require paralegals to be certified, but certification is another signal to employers that you’ve got the fundamentals covered and you’re eager to learn more. The National Association of Legal Support Professionals (NALS) offers certifications including Accredited Legal Professional (ALP), Certified Legal Professional (CLP) — also known as Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) — and Professional Paralegal (PP).
Some states require or encourage paralegals to be licensed, which requires completing a certain number of hours of paralegal work and passing an exam.
How long does it take to become a paralegal?
An associate degree takes two years. A bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, and earning a certificate can take from eight months to a year.
Legal assistant vs. paralegal: What’s the difference?
It wasn’t until 1997 that these job names were separated by the ABA, which describes a paralegal as a trained professional who does delegated legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. It’s worth noting that a paralegal cannot provide legal advice or represent clients.
A legal assistant does administrative tasks and may also do legal research. The percentage may depend on the size of the workplace. Any legal assistant who does paralegal tasks must have paralegal training.
Are paralegals in demand?
Yes, and employment is expected to grow as law firms try to reduce costs and increase the number of paralegals on staff. Employment in this job is expected to grow 12% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Where do paralegals work?
Paralegals and legal assistants primarily work in legal services, which includes private law firms and in-house legal teams. They also work for state and local governments.
One of the biggest factors in paralegal satisfaction is finding an employer and a job with the right mix of tasks, ethics and team work for you. As paralegal and Rasmussen University Justice Studies instructor Julia Gordon explains, "You will work hard and long hours, but it's worth it."
What are the skills needed to be a paralegal?
Successful candidates tend to have these traits:
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Excellent computer skills
- Good interpersonal skills
- Excellent research skills
- The ability to work well in a team environment
- Very organized
- Good time-management skills