What do Paralegals Do?
Paralegals work closely with lawyers to assist them with legal research, preparing documents, and maintaining files.
In both civil and criminal cases, paralegals may conduct interviews with victims, suspects, witnesses, clients, or client families. Paralegals take notes or record these interviews to prepare a written transcript for review.
Paralegals must know how to research statutes, state and federal constitutions, and precedent-setting case law. Paralegals take this knowledge and present it to the attorney in a written brief. Briefs identify the issues and show how the research applies to the issues.
Another responsibility is to prepare what is known as the trial notebook. Each attorney has a certain way to organize the notebook. These are indexed and organized so that attorneys can just follow along in the notebook as they present their case to the judge and jury.
Paralegals prepare rough drafts of wills, contracts, bankruptcy filings, motions, and pleas. Attorneys will review these and note any changes to be made.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, paralegals earn a median wage of $46,000. The lowest reported wages were $29,000 and the highest reported wages were $74,000. Paralegals in large cities or firms will earn more than those working in a small town or law firm.
Requirements to Become a Paralegal
There are no set guidelines or requirements for becoming a paralegal. Some attorneys will hire someone with no legal experience so that the attorney can train the paralegal in the ways they like to have things done. This may happen more frequently in smaller law firms.
In order to have an advantage over other paralegal candidates, it is recommended that one earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in legal studies. Students learn:
- Legal research and legal writing
- Legal ethics
- Interviewing and investigation techniques
- Litigation procedures
Another avenue to a career as a paralegal is to add a certificate in paralegal studies to your associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The degree can be in any field.
Some states do have certifications that paralegals must obtain before they can begin work. Voluntary certifications are available from organizations such as The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc.
Be sure to participate in an internship while attending college. Once you graduate with your degree and some experience, you will be well on the road to success.