Paralegal and Legal Assistant

What Does a Paralegal or Legal Assistant Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants perform various tasks for lawyers, such as preparing closings, hearings, trials and organizing corporate meetings. Lawyers assign duties to paralegals that often mirror the same responsibilities of attorneys. Not to be confused with legal secretaries, paralegals and legal assistants actually draft documents and pleadings to be used by lawyers. Some paralegals may do investigative work by researching and double-checking the facts of cases, as well as verifying that all information is correct and nothing relevant is left out. Others are responsible for identifying applicable laws, judicial decisions and legal articles that are important to their assigned cases. After they analyze the cases and sort through the information, paralegals produce written reports that assist attorneys in legal proceedings. If an attorney’s case goes to court, a paralegal will often serve as his or her right-hand man, preparing legal arguments, draft pleadings, motions and obtain important documents for trial. Despite the amount and weight of paralegals’ responsibilities, lawyers remain fully responsible for all legal work. Paralegals cannot carry out the duties of an attorney, such as practicing law or giving legal advice.

What Is the Employment and Salary Outlook for a Paralegal or Legal Assistant?
The employment and salary outlook for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to be positive, with an estimated job growth of 28 percent by 2018. Much of this growth can be attributed to employers’ desire to cut costs and increase the availability and competence of legal services. In addition, lawyers want to make their services more effective by training paralegals to perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. The demand for paralegals will grow as a result of an expanding population that needs more legal services, particularly in the areas of intellectual property, health care, criminal law and environmental law. Businesses, insurance companies, banks and other organizations will also continue to seek the helpful services of paralegals. Along with this employment growth, paralegals can expect a favorable salary outlook. Paralegals and legal assistants made an average salary of $46,120 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, paralegals’ salaries vary greatly and are typically determined by education, training, experience, employer and location.

How Can I Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant?
To become a paralegal or legal assistant, you should complete the necessary educational and training steps before entering this interactive field. Today, most paralegals hold a college degree in paralegal studies, political science or another related field. The quickest and most effective way to enter the industry is to earn an associate degree. This degree program takes about two years to complete and can be earned at various higher education institutions, such as community colleges, four-year universities and vocational schools. During school, you will learn about legal terminology, civil rights, drafting legal documents, as well as develop investigative research skills and case briefing knowledge. For more information on paralegal education programs and law resources for students, check out The Association of Legal Assistants.