A paralegal works behind the scenes in law, and they play an essential role in the legal system. From the way lawyers and court cases are portrayed in movies, it might seem as though the legal system is full of dramatic interactions with the judge and impassioned testimony from witnesses. However, the majority of a court case occurs within the realm of research and paperwork. A legal assistant plays an essential link between research and the courtroom.
Different Types of Court Cases
The legal system is divided into two groups that include criminal court and civil court. Criminal court is where the state or government attorneys try cases brought against defendants. Any time an individual or group is arrested by law enforcement, there is a chance that charges will be brought, and a trial will occur in criminal court.
On the other hand, when citizens in the private sector have a grievance and wish to sue another party in court, a trial will occur in civil court. For example, cases like wrongful death, debts owed, and workplace discrimination will see time in civil court, and both parties at trial will be from the private sector.
Within criminal law, legal assistants may work on the prosecutor’s team, or they may find work with a defense team. All lawyers in every facet of law require legal assistants to help with their case load.
Common Duties and Roles in Criminal Court
Almost everyone who works in law eventually specializes in an area of the system. For example, lawyers may try criminal cases and specialize in capital punishment cases where the death penalty is a possibility. Alternatively, a lawyer may specialize in corporate law and represent companies and individuals charged by the government with crimes like fraud.
Legal assistants may also specialize in criminal court cases, and may deepen their focus by specializing in a particular type of criminal case. Tasks that are common to many different types of criminal cases include performing legal research, maintaining files associated with the case, preparing documents for trial, and participating in depositions, interviews, and other official meetings.
According to the Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals (ALAP), a legal assistant will need to be aware of several essential topics that come up in criminal court like Fourth Amendment issues, due process violations, and the constitutional rights of a defendant. Additionally, and depending on whether a legal assistant will work on the prosecutor’s team or the defendant’s team, the assistant will also need to be able to draft various documents related to criminal cases.
Getting a Paralegal Job for Criminal Cases
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal assistants may enter the profession after earning an associate’s degree; however, it’s also possible to begin work in law as a legal assistant right out of high school. Some law firms will employ assistants to perform basic clerical duties that may eventually expand to more advanced responsibilities associated with criminal court cases.
The role of a legal assistant is much more than simple filing and clerical work for a lawyer. A legal assistant must understand the intricacies of the criminal justice system and the constitutional rights, legal statutes, and common facets of trial. A paralegal will work closely with a lawyer to determine trial strategies, select juries, and research legal statutes.