Paralegal Programs

Education & Training

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, lend a hand to lawyers with a variety of important tasks. Among many other things, these workers catalog and organize information pertaining to court cases.

They help lawyers gather notes before meetings and give support to attorneys while preparing for hearings and trials.

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The focus of a paralegal is to assist both colleagues and clients with legal issues. A paralegal’s job duties will vary depending on the type of law firm they work for. They may use special computer software to scan documents for particular subjects or key phrases, gather information from clients, or maintain work space organization.

Educational Requirements

A typical paralegal education involves the completion of an associate’s degree program. Very few schools offer bachelor’s degrees in the field.

A paralegal certificate is also acceptable by most firms as long as the recruit has a bachelor’s degree in any subject.

The American Bar Association must approve paralegal school programs in the United States. Certificate courses are rigorous and demanding, usually taking place over the course of a few months.

While attending paralegal classes, prospects learn the following:

  • Effective legal writing skills
  • How to conduct thorough research pertaining to the law
  • The proper use of technology in relation to paralegal work
  • Details on corporate law
  • International law overviews

What Is a Paralegal?

Paralegals are lawyer assistants, doing a lot of the necessary legwork for busy attorneys. They write drafts of legal documents and support lawyers while preparing for hearings or other courtroom proceedings.

Workers also compile case facts and gather electronic info related to court hearings.

Associates must be at ease sorting through laws and statutes while researching reports or writing papers.

They will have to keep up with evolving bylaws to maintain the accuracy of data they provide to lawyers, judges, and defendants. These professionals also need to coordinate meetings with witnesses and clients.

Those who work for smaller legal firms usually work on a case through its entire duration and perform a wide array of tasks. Larger firms often have their paralegals focus strictly on specific phases of a case.

Salary

Yearly salary packages for these professionals range from $31k up to more than $80k. On average, they earn around $50k annually.

Below is a list of average salaries and wages per state.

Area Name Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Alabama $24.58 $51,130.00
Alaska $30.57 $63,580.00
Arizona $29.47 $61,300.00
Arkansas
California $36.58 $76,080.00
Colorado $33.13 $68,920.00
Connecticut $32.36 $67,310.00
Delaware $32.86 $68,340.00
District of Columbia $44.17 $91,880.00
Florida $27.24 $56,650.00
Georgia $27.83 $57,890.00
Guam $19.62 $40,810.00
Hawaii $28.70 $59,690.00
Idaho $24.00 $49,930.00
Illinois $30.57 $63,590.00
Indiana $26.00 $54,080.00
Iowa $28.04 $58,310.00
Kansas $25.69 $53,440.00
Kentucky $24.53 $51,020.00
Louisiana $25.36 $52,760.00
Maine $26.97 $56,110.00
Maryland $30.23 $62,880.00
Massachusetts $34.46 $71,670.00
Michigan $28.08 $58,400.00
Minnesota $30.51 $63,450.00
Mississippi $22.15 $46,060.00
Missouri $27.91 $58,040.00
Montana $27.98 $58,190.00
Nebraska $27.17 $56,510.00
Nevada $29.26 $60,860.00
New Hampshire $27.18 $56,530.00
New Jersey $31.52 $65,570.00
New Mexico $24.72 $51,420.00
New York $33.59 $69,860.00
North Carolina $26.98 $56,120.00
North Dakota $26.00 $54,090.00
Ohio $26.60 $55,320.00
Oklahoma $24.73 $51,430.00
Oregon $31.85 $66,250.00
Pennsylvania $31.12 $64,730.00
Puerto Rico $21.74 $45,220.00
South Carolina $25.03 $52,060.00
South Dakota $26.58 $55,290.00
Tennessee $26.10 $54,290.00
Texas $28.83 $59,970.00
Utah $26.94 $56,040.00
Vermont $29.43 $61,210.00
Virgin Islands $26.20 $54,500.00
Virginia $29.12 $60,570.00
Washington $34.90 $72,590.00
West Virginia $24.22 $50,380.00
Wisconsin $26.39 $54,880.00
Wyoming $25.24 $52,500.00

source: data.bls.gov
Occupation: Paralegals and Legal Assistants (SOC Code232011)

Career Overview

What Are Common Paralegal Duties?


Recruits must be up to date on the latest electronic discovery programs. This software compiles all of the electronic evidence obtained during an investigation, including images, website URLs, emails, and texts.

Job hopefuls must be proficient in gathering and preparing evidence for legal use. They must be good copywriters, as they draft settlement agreements between disputing parties.

Paralegals also set up computers and projectors in courtrooms or conference spaces.

When beginning a trial, workers may need to take care of details like booking office space and arranging evidence delivery. Paralegal professionals are also responsible for the following tasks:

  • Trial preparation duties
  • Case analysis and review
  • Scanning and archiving documents obtained from clients
  • Resolving scheduling conflicts
  • Crafting legal correspondence
  • Maintenance of electronic or paper filing systems
  • Running errands for lawyers and other associates
  • Using billing software to obtain payments for hours worked
  • Writing and presentation of briefs
  • Devising stipulations for opposing parties to agree upon
  • Filing motions requesting judges to issue rulings
  • Developing PowerPoint presentations regarding specific issues
  • Drafting deposition notices that request witnesses to answer questions
  • Preparing confidentiality, non-compete, and consulting agreements

What Types of Skills Should Paralegals Possess?

Due to demands for less costly legal services, law firms are doing all they can to cut down on billing costs. In many cases, this has prompted clients to hire paralegals as less expensive alternatives to lawyers.

While they don’t provide all of the services as attorneys, legal assistants can perform crucial components of a case at a reduced pay rate.

There’s a trend among big businesses to hire in-house legal assistants. This practice lowers costs and reduces dependence on outside counsel.

It has led to an increase in demand for those with American Bar Association-certified paralegal training.

Work Environment

To avoid losing papers or mixing case files, legal assistants must keep tidy workspaces. Cluttered desks or unstructured filing cabinets will quickly lead to confusion. This is why professionals use paralegal equipment such as organizers, binders, and labeling machines to keep their things in order.

Why Do Paralegals Need Social Skills?

Paralegals need to be comfortable speaking in public, as they make affidavits, which take place in front of the entire courtroom. Legal assistants must also schedule meetings, interviews, and depositions.

This involves getting ahold of witnesses and others via telephone or email.

During trials, these workers handle exhibits which are presented to the gallery and jury. It takes a certain amount of bravery to get up in front of a courtroom and present crucial evidence, and is something job hopefuls should be ready to tackle.

It’s also important for legal assistants to keep confidential matters between them and the client. This includes not discussing sensitive information in public or through texts and email.

Paralegals should always make it clear that they cannot provide legal advice. Only lawyers who have taken and passed bar exams can give recommendations.

Other Useful Skills

  • An understanding of paralegal tools such as LexisNexis and LegalEdge
  • General computer skills such as word processing or spreadsheet programs
  • Experience with data entry and electronic database management
  • Accuracy while researching and gathering information
  • Organizational abilities to compile evidence and documents in logical fashion
  • The ability to multitask, working on several cases at once without getting them confused
  • Approachable personalities to put clients at ease when discussing personal matters
  • Communication and writing skills to prepare documents and convey detailed ideas

Work Environment

Most paralegals work full-time schedules in law office buildings. They may put in more than 40 hours a week when up against tight deadlines or working on important cases.

At times, travel may be required to conduct interviews or attend depositions and trials.

Prospects should expect a fast-paced, high-stress environment with strict deadlines. There is a lot of money at stake in the legal world, and the slightest clerical error can be costly.

Legal assistants must be attentive, detail oriented, and fluent in courtroom terminology.

Where Do Paralegals Work?

Legal assistants are in one way or another associated with every industry. In the United States, their biggest employers are law firms. Many with paralegal skills also work for healthcare providers and consulting companies. Other top employers include the following:

  • Legal service groups
  • Federal government agencies
  • State or local governments
  • Insurance organizations
  • Financial institutions
  • Corporate legal departments
  • Food companies
  • Sports teams

Can Paralegals Work Remotely?

Virtual paralegals work at home, conducting duties such as preparing documents, making schedules, and performing data entry. They also do legal research, file motions, and transcribe legal copy.

Many small to mid-sized law firms use their services to save money compared to a standard in-house paralegal staff.

Virtual paralegals cannot give legal advice or perform services for specific individuals. A licensed attorney at a legal firm must review their work before sending it off to the client or court.

What Are Some Other Career Options for Paralegals?

Paralegals who aspire to become lawyers need to earn a bachelor’s degree and attend three years of law school. This usually takes a total of around seven years.

Depending on the school, students who have earned associate’s paralegal degrees may receive credit towards a bachelor’s law degree.

Working for trial lawyers is one of many options available to paralegals. For example, corporate lawyers compile financial reports and develop contracts or shareholder agreements.

A paralegal may focus on specific types of law, such as immigration, intellectual property, or criminal justice. For variety, legal assistants can seek employment in the following fields:

  • Family law
  • Real estate
  • Bankruptcy
  • Personal injury
  • Employee benefits

Career Outlook

Those with a paralegal resume shouldn’t have much trouble finding work, as the profession is in high demand. Industry job growth is at 15%, which is a great deal more than the national average. There are over 285,000 people employed as paralegals in the United States.

Paralegal Career Q&A

A Q&A session with Dennis Tapia, a paralegal in Vista, CA. Dennis has been in this field for the last 20 years.

Q: Describe your average daily routine. What types of tasks are you expected to complete as part of your job?

A: Each day is different, I assist many people who wish to either file for a divorce, name change, prepare a will or a living trust. I must contact clients, ask questions and gather data in order to prepare the legal documents. Once the documents are complete the documents must be signed and filed with the proper court. The court requires the documents/forms be submitted in the proper format. I must keep current with laws and procedures in the field of family law and trust and probate law. Time is very important in all cases and if the forms and/or documents are rejected this could cost my clients valuable time and money.


Q: What do you like the most about being a paralegal?

A: I would have to say I like helping people solve their problems and saving them money. It’s a very rewarding field and you meet very interesting people.


Q: What do you dislike, if anything, about being a paralegal?

A: The high cost of court filing fees, each year they go up and my clients must pay this before a case can get started.


Q: What is your work environment like?

A: It can be busy but it’s very rewarding and sometime it’s a bit stressful when you have deadlines to meet.


Q: What is your work schedule like?

A: My normal work day starts around 7:00 am up to 6 pm, five to six days a week. Most people think if you work for yourself it’s easy but if you’re not completing cases, answering phones, you’re not getting paid. But you have the option of taking long weekends, once in awhile.


Q: Where did you get the training necessary for your job?

A: I attended Santa Ana College in Orange County where I received a certificate in Paralegal Studies. The program took 3 years to complete, full time. I learned the basic skills on how to prepare legal documents/forms, procedures, and laws. I would recommend this program because it prepares you to work for attorneys or work for yourself.


Q: Would you recommend your job as a paralegal to another person?

A: Yes, you have the option to work at your own pace, take the case you want and set your own fee schedule.


Q: What is the next step in your career?

A: Right now, continue to grow my business and promote it. I plan to stay in this field, I found out everybody needs some type of legal and/or tax help sometime in their life. We all must follow the law and pay taxes.

Related Resources

Becoming a Paralegal in California
Becoming a Paralegal in Florida
Becoming a Paralegal in Texas