Paralegals are trained professionals who support and assist lawyers with their duties, including organizing and maintaining files, gathering legal research and drafting legal documents. Paralegals are becoming a vital part of legal teams today, and their services are used by many attorneys. While much of their time is spent in the lawyer’s office, paralegals may also work in courtrooms provided the work they perform does not fall under the category of the attorney’s responsibilities.
Related resource: 50 Most Affordable Online Paralegal Degree Programs
What Do Paralegals Do?
Paralegals may work as litigation paralegals, corporate paralegals or may specialize in a specific type of law, such as criminal law, personal injury, bankruptcy, family law or real estate. While their duties may vary somewhat, most paralegals do the following tasks.
• Maintain electronic filing systems
• Investigate and collect facts for a case
• Arrange evidence and legal documents for the lawyer to review
• Summarize and write up reports as preparation for trials
• Obtain formal statements and affidavits for evidence in court
• File briefs, exhibits, appeals and similar legal documentation with the court
• Call lawyers, witnesses or clients to schedule appointments
• Conduct research on legal articles, regulations or case-related laws
Can Paralegals Work in a Courtroom?
We’ve all watched legal shows on television where we watch a case taking place in a courtroom. There may be two to three people sitting at a table in addition to the defendant. One of these people may be a paralegal. Paralegals can work in courtrooms, but they are limited as to what they can do according to regulations set by the American Bar Association. An attorney must identify a paralegal as such. They must also abide by these three main ABA rules.
• Paralegals may be in a courtroom with the attorney but may not represent clients in a court hearing.
• Paralegals may not initiate an attorney/client relationship because they are not attorneys.
• Paralegals may not provide legal advice to a client.
How to Become a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal typically requires completing an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Paralegal programs include courses in legal writing, legal research, legal applications of computers, family law, introduction to law, criminal law, contract law, negotiations, and legal ethics. Students also complete an internship working in a law firm to obtain hands-on training in a real-life legal setting.
Some schools also offer paralegal certification programs for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Although it’s not required, many paralegals choose to obtain certification through organizations like the National Association of Paralegals, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the Association for Legal Professionals and the American Alliance of Paralegals.
Career Outlook for Paralegals
In an attempt to cut back on expenses, attorneys are using the services of paralegals and legal assistants more and more, making them very much in demand. By allowing the paralegal to perform many of the routine, mundane tasks, the law firm is more cost-effective, and lawyers have more time to see more clients.
Paralegals are projected to see a job growth of 15% between 2016 and 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This number should result in about 41,800 new paralegal jobs created by 2026. The bureau also reports that paralegals earned average annual wages of $53,910 as of May 2017.
Individuals interested in working in a legal setting without spending years in law school often find paralegal work to be very rewarding. The time spent in the office, performing research or assisting in the courtroom can provide paralegals with an interesting workday.