Paralegals play an important role in the legal process, offering support to lawyers and affordable legal assistance to clients. Ranked one of the 20 best jobs in America by CNN Money, a career as a paralegal can be extremely rewarding. If you are highly organized, enjoy research and can easily relate to people, then a career in paralegal may be the perfect fit for you.
Paralegals need to complete a certification program or associate degree in paralegal or legal studies. Certification programs are great for students who want to enter the profession quickly, while an associate’s degree is good for students who want to advance their legal career later in life.
Over the course of a paralegal or legal studies program, you have the opportunity to take specialized courses so you can work in specific legal fields. Specialization typically falls within criminal, corporate or family law. You can also achieve specialization from on-the-job experience gained during an internship or in an entry-level position. Look for firms that work within the specialized legal field you have an interest in.
Paralegals are often encouraged to continue their legal education throughout the course of their career. This helps them stay on top of new laws and regulations and continue to meet the requirements for their state, firm or association.
Paralegals work directly with or under the direction of lawyers and attorneys. They draft legal documents such as contracts and mortgages, draft and sign legal documents and represent clients when permitted by law.
Paralegals are also important during court proceedings. Prior to court, paralegals help gather facts, affidavits and statements for evidence. They then prepare cases by gathering and arranging the evidence and writing summarized reports to prepare attorneys and lawyers for trial. During a trial, a paralegal handles the exhibits and takes notes on the court proceedings.
Paralegals have a range of responsibilities that vary depending on the employer. However, by law they are unable to offer clients legal advice or opinion.
Salary and Job Outlook
Paralegals made and average annual salary of $48,810 in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or $23.47 per hour. The BLS expects the profession to grow by 8 percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as average.
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