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Paralegal

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What is a Paralegal?:

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, are individuals trained to assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Paralegals work in law firms, corporations, the government and other practice environments and operate under the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, establish legal fees or sign documents filed with the court.

Paralegal Job Duties:

Paralegals assist attorneys in resolving lawsuits. They investigate the facts of a case; interview clients and witnesses; perform legal research; draft pleadings, deposition notices, subpoenas, motions, briefs, discovery and other legal documents; organize and manage files, documents and exhibits; file documents with federal and state courts; and assist at hearings, arbitrations, mediations, administrative proceedings, closings and trials.

Paralegal Education:

Although some paralegals possess no formal paralegal training, paralegals generally possess a 2-year associate’s degree, 4-year bachelor’s degree, and/or paralegal certificate. Paralegals with a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a college degree in any field combined with a paralegal certificate generally have the most career prospects.

Many paralegals are enhancing their professional status through paralegal certification. Most certification bodies require a paralegal to pass an examination and possess at least one year of experience in the field.

Paralegal Skills:

Paralegals must have a solid knowledge of legal terminology, federal and state rules of legal procedure and substantive law. They must have excellent organizational skills in order to manage voluminous case files and exhibits which may number in the hundreds for a single case. Communication skills are crucial since paralegals interact regularly with clients, experts, vendors, court personnel and other attorneys. Strong research and writing skills are also necessary in drafting pleadings, discovery, research memorandums, correspondence and other documents. This outline details the top skills you need to succeed as a paralegal.

Paralegal Salaries:

Paralegal salaries hinge on many factors including experience level, education, practice environment and geographic location. According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ (NFPA) most recent salary survey, the average paralegal salary is $50,496 and the median national salary is $49,000, with one-fourth of the respondents at or below $40,000 and one-fourth at or above $60,000.

Some experienced paralegals with special skills and/or management duties earn in excess of six figures annually. However, entry level paralegals in rural areas may earn less than $20,000 per year.

Paralegal Job Outlook:

Ranked as one of the 20 best jobs in America by CNN.Money, opportunities in the paralegal field are plentiful. Factors contributing to growth in the paralegal field include job attrition and a healthy legal market. Due to rising legal fees, more clients are demanding the use of paralegals over high-priced attorneys when possible. Increasing case loads have encouraged lawyers to delegate tasks formerly reserved for attorneys and professional staff, creating more opportunities for paralegals.

Additional Resources:

For more information on paralegal careers, contact the National Association of Legal Assistants or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

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