Paralegals work in all areas of the law, assisting lawyers in every aspect of a court case, and more paralegals work in public law than any other area, aside from private law firms. While the majority of legal assistants and paralegals work for private firms, the next largest portion of the workforce is found in local and federal governments, working in administrative, criminal and constitutional law. Paralegals in this sector help lawyers investigate facts, research regulations, laws and legal articles, file paperwork, handle evidence, obtain affidavits and coordinate the logistics of the cases they work on, such as reserving office space and planning schedules.
The work of a paralegal is often very demanding in administrative, criminal and constitutional law, and special training is required. Most paralegals have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as well as paralegal certification, although legal assistants with a bachelor’s degree don’t always need a formal education in law. Because court cases tend to run on deadlines, paralegals frequently have to work long hours to finish a case before it closes. In federal and local governments, paralegals perform most of the same duties as they do in other areas, but they must have specialized knowledge of the area of law in which they work.
How to Become a Paralegal in Public Law
While 72 percent of paralegals work for private law firms, approximately 15 percent work for federal and local governments. It’s not always necessary to have a paralegal degree to work in this area of the law because many employers offer on-the-job training, but in this case, a bachelor’s degree is usually required. With an associate’s degree, paralegals should be able to find work in any government department or agency, although certification will make them more attractive to employers. Some agencies may hire paralegals without education or certification, providing all the necessary training on the job.
Most community colleges offer paralegal associate’s degrees, although these degrees only offer general training. To work in administrative, criminal or constitutional law, paralegals usually need to gain about a year of experience in a related environment, perhaps working in a similar position, such as office assistant or secretary. A paralegal’s college education covers the essential duties of the occupation, such as court procedures and electronic discovery. All electronic documents related to a court case — from emails to legal files to accounting databases — are referred to as electronic discovery, and paralegals must be proficient in database management software.
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook
Paralegals working in the federal government make more than in any other area. In 2012, their median annual salary was $62,400, compared to $44,950 for paralegals working in private law firms. The job outlook for paralegals and legal assistants is quite good, as well. The growth rate for paralegal jobs is expected to be 17 percent over the next ten years, which is above average for all occupations in the U.S. economy. The reason for the rapid growth is that many jobs that once went to practicing lawyers are now being performed by paralegals with the proper training and experience.
The work of a paralegal can be very stressful and requires a particular type of person with the right work ethic and interest in law. If you have a natural passion for public law, consider undergoing the training and certification required to become a paralegal.