Paralegal or Legal Assistant
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Salary Range: $40,000 to $59,999
Average Hourly: $ 25.44
Education: Associate's degree
Number of Jobs: 345600
Jobs Added to 2029: 41400
Growth: Faster than average
Go here to see salary and job data specific to the United Kingdom.
What Paralegals and Legal Assistants Do
Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:
- Investigate and gather the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
- Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
- Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
- File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions
Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings.
Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.
Paralegals’ specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work. The following are examples of types of paralegals and legal assistants:
Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies’ annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.
Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.
Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.
In small firms, paralegals’ duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.
In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.
Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal’s work is often billed to the client.
Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.
Paralegals and legal assistants are found in all types of organizations, but most work for law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies. They usually work full time, and some may have to work more than 40 hours a week to meet deadlines.
Work Environment Details
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Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with , fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.
Paralegals do most of their work in offices. Occasionally, they may travel to gather information, collect and review documents, accompany attorneys to depositions or trials, and do other tasks.
Some of the work can be fast-paced, and paralegals must be able to work on multiple projects under tight deadlines.
Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time. Some may work more than 40 hours per week in order to meet deadlines.
Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.
About 43,000 openings for paralegals and legal assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
How to Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant
There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. A common path is for candidates to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution.
However, many employers may prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, applicants typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association. Common fields of degree include social science, business, and security and protective service.
Associate’s and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies or law and legal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.
Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program.
Some national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria.
Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.
Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.
Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.
Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.
Research skills. Paralegals gather facts of the case and research information on relevant laws and regulations to prepare drafts of legal documents for attorneys and help them prepare for a case.