Paralegal Salary Factsheet » What Does a Paralegal Do?
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Paralegal Job Description: Duties and Responsibilities
If you are looking for your dream job and you are interested in the paralegal field, it is important to get familiar with the paralegal job description, the wonderful opportunities this profession offers and find out why the paralegal profession is so attractive in our modern society. A paralegal’s job description can vary significantly, in large part depending on the practice area in which they work. Litigation paralegals, who assist attorneys who handle various of court cases, may spend their time reviewing medical records, drafting motions and other court documents, completing legal and fact research, and preparing for depositions and trials. However, litigation encompasses a wide variety of different types of cases, from family law disputes, to personal injury claims, to lawsuits between large corporations.
On the other side of the spectrum are paralegals that work in transactional areas of law. These include those who work for attorneys who handle estate planning, real estate transactions, intellectual property, and in-house for businesses and corporations (although these paralegals could also handle litigation-related matters.) Transactional law often involves in-depth knowledge of a specific practice area, and although paralegals working in these areas may not encounter the last-minute urgency that’s common in litigation, they often have a high volume of detailed work to do on a daily basis. This could include tasks like completing forms, research, record keeping, preparing for meetings, drafting documents, preparing and filing reports, and communicating with clients.
Paralegal Job Duties
At the beginning of their career, associate paralegals (0-2 years experience) will certainly be given simpler tasks to do, such as:
- organizing files;
- scheduling events;
- filling out legal forms;
- drafting letters and simple court documents;
- answering the phone.
The more difficult and more important tasks will be assigned to experienced paralegals (2-5 years experience) as they gain experience.
Some of advanced duties of a paralegal may include:
- drafting divorces,
- tax refunds and other contracts,
- writing reports and legal documents,
making thorough researches about laws and judicial decisions, about current as well as past cases.
- they usually assist lawyers in the courtroom and help them prepare for their cases.
As paralegals advance through the levels to senior paralegals (more than 5 years experience), they experience an increase in pay and responsibilities.
Sample duties for more senior paralegals include:
- drafting corporate bylaws;
- renewing pending legislation;
- assisting at closing for real estate transaction or corporate mergers;
- drafting motions and other complex court documents.
Although most paralegals work in private law firms, law firms are not the only employers of paralegals as we saw earlier on. In addition, a growing number of paralegals work in less traditional settings as for other types of businesses, for themselves or for temporary agencies.
How to become a paralegal?
One of the reasons that the paralegal profession is so popular and prosperous is the fact that the educational process for future paralegals is much shorter and less rigorous than the one for attorneys. Nevertheless, paralegal responsibilities do require specialized skills and knowledge.
Even today, an associate degree in paralegal studies with a certificate from a recognized paralegal program is required for many entry-level paralegal positions. Some law firms insist upon a 4 year paralegal degree plus a paralegal certificate.
Paralegal certification is not obligatory, but it certainly is recommended, as it represents the candidate as a dedicated and committed individual, increasing his or her credibility. The National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA) is one of the organizations that provide certification exams for “Certified Legal Assistant” (CLA) and “Certified Paralegal” (CP).
The examination that must be passed is two days long and it focuses on knowledge in the field of law, communication, ethics, human relations, analytical skills, research and interviewing techniques.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) provides the PACE exam (Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination), which is a two-tiered exam, with the first tier focused on the legal issues and the second one on the specialization. The National Association for Legal Professionals offers the basic certification ALS, the PP for paralegals and the advanced certification PLS.
Growth opportunities for paralegals
The demand for qualified paralegals is increasing, especially for paralegals specialized in certain fields, such as real estate and environmental law. Entry level paralegals, on the other hand, should take the paralegal training and education very seriously and gain as much experience as they can, thus making their progress as a paralegal inevitable.
Why should I Become a Paralegal?
The benefits of becoming a paralegal are numerous. First of all, you will become a part of a rapidly developing field, with many opportunities for career advancement. Have in mind that, even though the economy and the job market have not been stable, the demand for paralegals has been increasing over the years. Also, this is considered a well-paid job, with the salary substantially increasing over the years and becoming very satisfying for experienced and trained professionals.
If one finds the legal field suitable for his or her characteristics and interests, the paralegal career may well be the place to start. The paralegal job is a wonderful way to gain expertise and experience in the legal profession and grow into a capable professional with a vast array of opportunities and career paths including an attorney-at-law!