Law Office Insider: Getting To Know Paralegals
In this five-part series, you’ll learn the ins-and-outs of a law firm. With over a million licensed attorneys in the United States, law firms and legal offices are around every corner. People need assistance with everything from auto accidents to work injuries; that’s where lawyers come in. To give support, attorneys need help with small things like organization, to large things like marketing themselves. To give them the dedicated work they need, people like paralegals deliver.
The legal world makes up a massive chunk of the American corporate rat race. Law firms can be found in the tallest skyscrapers to the corners of small towns. Legal help is needed at all corners of the country; that’s why what paralegals do is so important. Everyone knows lawyers and the brilliance they need in the courtroom. However, just like any great person, there is someone behind the scenes. Paralegals are those people. When a lawyer needs assistance, paralegals answer the call.
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The American bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as a legal assistant who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. The nightmare that is paperwork seems to be a never-ending battle. Paralegals have knowledge of the law, usually through education, which qualifies them to perform certain legal work.
If you’re looking for a down to the detail idea of what a legal assistant does on a daily basis, you’re not going to find it. Paralegals will never have the same day twice. They are trained to assist attorneys in every form of legal service. More often than not, paralegals will work within law firms, because direct contact with their supervising attorney is needed. Some may work for large corporations to assist them in legal matters, others may work in government. Occasionally, paralegals will even work from the comfort of their homes. Freelance contract work is common for people with legal knowledge.
In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirmed 325,700 employed paralegals within the United States. 73% of those paralegals worked at law firms.
Duties & Responsibilities
As mentioned before, paralegals never have the same day. The duties of their daily tasks change from case to case. Because of this fact, there are different subcategories of paralegals. Generally speaking, both subtitles will have similar duties and responsibilities.
- Litigation Paralegal
Without litigation paralegals, attorneys would be nothing. Litigation paralegals become involved in a case after a lawsuit has been filed. They draft pleadings and handle the scheduling of litigation processes, such as mediations and depositions. They are essential to smooth operation before, during, and after trials. With each separate trial comes thousands of different details that must be ironed out. Litigation paralegals investigate, deal with pleadings, and aid in the discovery process. Litigation paralegals can also assist with interviewing witnesses, taking statements, and gathering evidence.
Litigation paralegals are also essential mid-trial. They organize exhibits, documents, and evidence so that they are readily available when an attorney needs them. The litigation paralegal is a crucial job in the law office.
- Pre-Litigation Paralegal
Pre-litigation involves everything before a lawsuit is filed. These paralegals attempt to resolve the case before it goes through to court. Pre-litigation paralegals open claims, assist with the gathering of important documents, and help the attorneys send out demands. The paralegals’ assistance with demands is especially important because reaching a financial settlement before the litigation process begins can save money for everyone involved.
Duties for paralegals both pre-lit and litigation can include the following:
- Arranging mediation or “expert” evaluations
- Contributing to trial preparation
- Drafting legal documents and/or pleadings
- Organizing and managing files, documents, and evidence
- Interviewing clients to obtain information about the legal issue
Salary & Education
In 2018, the median wage for legal assistants was just under $51,000. The highest paid reported paralegal was paid $82,050. This sticks paralegals in the upper-middle class when it comes to wages. Usually, the highest paid legal assistants are employed by the federal government.
Education varies with paralegals more than most other jobs. You may assume that anyone in a law office is highly educated in law. However, even paralegals may have learned all they know from experience. The average paralegal has an associate degree. That means there are several different paths for becoming a paralegal. You can start from the bottom of a law firm and learn your way to the middle of the legal team.
Recently, the ABA reported that many new employers are requiring that paralegals have bachelor’s degrees. Education can be tricky though; few universities have paralegal studies. This means that employees usually come from different backgrounds and pursue the proper licenses in order to become a paralegal.
Being a paralegal is not for everyone. Law, in general, is an extremely challenging field that many people are not cut out for. Legal assistants need to be assertive enough to deal with clients and the ensuing difficulties that arise from that. They should also be detail-oriented in order to keep track of the minute things that go into each and every case. The following skills are the most important amongst employer reviews:
- Organization is important for all jobs, but paralegals need specific organizational skills. At one time, paralegals could be keeping tabs on multiple different cases and intaking more. If you’re unorganized, becoming a paralegal will not work for you.
- Firm communication skills are vital. Lawyers need constant contact with all of the information surrounding the case, if they don’t have it, their jobs will be harder than they already are. It’s also important to be able to communicate to any clients, interviewees, or expert professionals.
- Research & Writing
- Researching is vitally important to building a case. Because of this, paralegals need all the research knowledge they can find. Finding relevant laws can help attorneys prepare legal documents.
- Handling Pressure
- The pressure is going to be on every single day. There is money, time, and resources involved that make every case important. Multi-tasking should be a cinch for a good legal assistant.
The future outlook for paralegals is better than nearly all other jobs. According to the BLS, employment of legal assistants is projected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028. If you’re looking into becoming a paralegal, now is the time to do it. Law firms are only growing, and the legal world has no decline in its future.
Contributor Frank Cservenyak Jr.
As the founding partner of the prestigious RCK Law Firm, Frank S. Cservenyak Jr. has built a reputation of experience and power specializing in several fields of the law: Personal injury, Criminal law, Commercial litigation, and Employment law. Franks's love for the law led him down a path to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he earned his Juris Doctor degree. Now he is an active member of many prestigious organizations, including the American Trial Lawyers Association and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. Throughout his career, he has won millions of dollars for his clients in damages from wrongful death cases, personal injury cases, and product liability.