How to Start Your Law Career as a Paralegal
Have you always been interested in the legal profession but cannot afford the investment in time and money to pursue a law degree? If so, a paralegal career might be the right path for you to follow.
A paralegal has a very important role in the legal system and the profession can be very rewarding. They assist attorneys in a wide variety of legal services.
What You Can Expect to Do as a Paralegal
Although a paralegal cannot give legal advice, accept, or present court cases or set fees for services, they can perform many other important services. Some of their duties are:
- Legal case investigation.
- Legal document research.
- Assisting with motions and draft pleadings.
- Drafting legal documents such as mortgages, contracts, trusts, and separation agreements.
- Assisting with court trials.
- Finding witnesses.
- Securing affidavits.
- Maintaining and tracking case files.
Paralegal Specialties You Can Pursue
Paralegals who work in smaller law firms generally work in a wide variety of law services. They might assist on a will in the morning and a divorce case after lunch. General practice law firms require their paralegals to perform a variety of services for a variety of clients. They commonly see probate and family law cases on a daily basis.
Paralegals who work in large law firms can focus on specific areas of law. Some areas a paralegal can specialize in are:
- Corporate Law: A paralegal that specializes in corporate law assists with mergers, stock offerings, patents, copyrights, and formation of business entities.
- Government Law: A paralegal can work for a variety of government agencies at the state, local or federal levels. There are also positions available in the court system. Some services that a government paralegal performs include evidence collection and conducting investigations. Paralegals work in the Justice Department and even in the White House.
- Litigation: Litigation is simply settling disputes in court. These can be civil or criminal lawsuits. Litigation cases require the paralegal to draft pleadings and briefs, maintain, and track court dates and deadlines, investigate facts and assist in preparing appeals.
- Labor and Employment Law: A paralegal that specializes in labor law needs to possess knowledge of employment relationships including worker's compensation, human resources, discrimination in the work place and unemployment compensation. A paralegal commonly develops employee handbooks, investigates claims of discrimination, wrongful termination, and drafts affidavits.
- Estate Planning: When a paralegal specializes in estate planning, they normally draft wills for the law firm's clients. They also create documents for conservatorships and guardianships. These are cases involving incompetent people. Some paralegal responsibilities include administration of estates, drafting wills, arranging for collections and transfer of assets.
- Real Estate Law: A paralegal that works in real estate law is involved in most aspects of the sale or lease of commercial or residential property. They assist with escrow closings, drafting transaction documents, and perform title searches on property transactions.
If you wish to pursue a paralegal degree, there are several options of study. Most community or private colleges offer a certificate program or an associate's degree that will help you secure any number of paralegal jobs.
Paralegal studies through an accredited institution will qualify you for an exciting career in the legal field. There are also some opportunities to receive a bachelor's or master's degree.
The following recognized organizations grant paralegal certification:
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- National Association of Legal Assistants
Most certifications require specific job experience and education. To receive their certification, a paralegal must pass a standardized exam. Employers prefer paralegals that have their certification.
An ABA (American Bar Association) approved program is required to follow a set of strict guidelines. Receiving a certificate from an ABA approved institution can be very helpful in securing a position in this competitive field.
Paralegal Salary Expectations
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2008 the average annual salary for a paralegal was $48,790. Salaries for paralegals vary widely based on size of law firm, industry, or even location.
The industries that command the highest income were internet service providers, publishing, automotive and motion picture industries. Law firms still account for 70 percent of the paralegal jobs. Paralegal salaries in law firms averaged $47,380 a year.
When you review the various programs available, take into consideration those that offer an internship opportunity. Internships help develop the network necessary to secure a great position. Although the paralegal field is very competitive, it can be a very rewarding career choice.