What Does a Paralegal Do? A Closer Look at this Law Career
If you are someone who hangs on the drama of Law & Order’s detectives tackling crime in New York City, or you enjoy the humorous dynamic between crime fighters in FOX’s Bones series, you have likely considered what it is like to play a role in the field of law.
Sure, the lawyers seem to be in the limelight during court scenes. It’s not always so evident that these lawyers’ successes and failures often depend on their paralegals. Perhaps you have heard of this type of law career, but what does a paralegal really do?
We gathered government data and expert insight to learn the ins and outs of this entry-level law career. Keep reading to find out if this could be your opportunity to get off your couch and get in on the action.
What are some daily responsibilities of a paralegal?
You probably know that a paralegal acts as an assistant to a lawyer. But what do they actually do on a daily basis?
Take a look at the following list of paralegal skills from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). You’ll see that it is not only a career for those interested in law, but also for individuals seeking variety and opportunities to multi-task.
- Communicate with clients, witnesses and lawyers to schedule meetings and interviews
- Create and use filing systems to organize legal documents
- Conduct research on laws pertinent to a case
- Support lawyers before and during trials with notes and summaries of transcripts and evidence
- Gather and arrange evidence for investigations and trials
- Draft legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
Many of these responsibilities require the use of technology, so keeping abreast of the most recent software programs will make a paralegal much more efficient and effective. Rules and regulations are also constantly changing, meaning a successful paralegal must employ a love of learning in order to stay up to date on industry news.
What are the most important paralegal skills?
We used real-time job analysis software to analyze nearly 50,000 paralegal jobs posted over the past year.* The data revealed the 10 paralegal skills in highest demand:
- Legal documentation
- Legal research
- Administrative support
- Case management
- Trial preparation
- Customer service
- Contract preparation
The list above suggests that an ideal paralegal candidate will have a fundamental knowledge of the legal system and an extreme attention to detail.
What are some common qualities successful paralegals possess?
Many of the skills listed above are abilities you would acquire in a paralegal degree program. But technical skills aren’t all you need to succeed in this field. There are some characteristics that lend themselves well to the profession.
“The most important skill is organization,” says Micah Longo, managing attorney at the Longo Firm and professor of paralegal studies. “Paralegals need to be able to manage a tremendous amount of work at one time efficiently.”
It may seem that paralegals deal primarily with documents behind a computer screen with little human contact, but Longo stresses the importance of strong interpersonal skills. He explains that sometimes a paralegal acts as an intermediary between the client and the attorney.
“Some clients need more explanation and handholding than others,” Longo says. “It takes a special skill to recognize how people think and react. A paralegal who is liked and trusted by clients is worth their weight in gold!”
What are some popular paralegal specialties?
While the above responsibilities are part of most paralegals’ daily duties, the specific job expectations will vary depending on the area of law or paralegal specialty you choose to pursue. Take a look at the following specialties to see which environment best fits you.
1. Contract administration
Paralegals in contract administration focus on developing, reviewing and administering contracts in a wide variety of industries. Since so many businesses use contracts, this specialty is in growing in demand. If you are someone who is hyper focused on the details, contract administration is a great option for you!
These paralegals take on the responsibility of creating and implementing a company’s ethics programs as well as ensuring it’s compliance with the ever-changing local, state and federal laws that affect the company. The need for this type of paralegal has remained consistent and it attracts people who are invested in staying up to date with a variety of regulations.
3. Corporate law
Attorneys receive assistance from corporate paralegals with any type of business transactions within a company to ensure that all regulations are being met. This could include employee contracts, financial reports or shareholder agreements. Corporate paralegals will always be needed because companies will always have legal regulations they are obligated to follow.
Healthcare paralegals support lawyers, insurance companies or businesses in cases connected to the medical field. Examining medical records and communicating with both parties involved in the claim are a few examples of specific duties. With an increasing focus on health insurance and all of the new technology being used in the medical field, healthcare paralegals are in growing demand.
5. Intellectual property
Paralegals who specialize in intellectual property work for organizations to develop and implement copyright, patent and trademark documents to protect property like music, inventions, literary works and designs. As businesses and individuals are inventing and creating at increasing rates, intellectual property paralegals are needed to help them guard their assets.
6. Real estate
These paralegals are involved in the different real estate transactions such as sales, purchases, leases, foreclosures and short-sales. They prepare the documents for these different agreements while also ensuring all documents are organized before and after realty transaction. The need for paralegals in this specialty is growing with the housing market.
Where do paralegals work?
While your work setting will likely depend on the specialty you choose, many paralegals will work in some type of office located in the building of the business for which they work (a law firm, an insurance company, a real estate business, etc.)
However, Longo notes a growing change in flexibility of work environment as the legal field progresses into the future. “Today, with cloud based technology you can work virtually anywhere and at any time,” he says. “My office is paperless, so work can be done on files from anywhere in the world.”
Now you know
So what does a paralegal do? The answer is certainly multifaceted. In a single day as a paralegal, you may find yourself gathering evidence for a trial, contacting a defendant for an interview, writing up a contract, organizing case files or debriefing an attorney on some legal research.
Paralegals are professionals with impeccable interpersonal and organizational skills who are involved in assisting attorneys with many types of legal processes from the beginning to the end. Skilled paralegals are crucial to the success of our legal system.
Does this career in the law field sound interesting to you? Find out how you can take the next step in our article: I Want to be a Paralegal, Now What?
*Burning-Glass.com (Analysis of 48,718 paralegal job postings, Aug. 01, 2015 – Jul. 31, 2016)