What is a Paralegal? Experts Explain Everything You Need to Know
If you’ve ever thought about working in the legal system, you’ve probably wondered if what you see on TV reflects real life. It’s time to stop wondering and start finding answers.
You’re not willing to invest seven or more years training to become a lawyer, so becoming a paralegal seems like the perfect option. But what exactly is a paralegal?
We connected with paralegal pros to find out exactly what the profession entails and the skills you’ll need to be successful. Pay attention to this insider insight to help decide if this career is right for you.
What is a paralegal, anyway?
Paralegals are typically employed by a lawyer or law office, acting as a jack-of-all-trades for their respective employer. They may assist with administrative duties, case prep and any other elements that help ensure a law office runs smoothly.
“My paralegal is my right hand,” says Elizabeth Ricci, Esq. “A good paralegal is vital to the success of any law practice.” She adds that her paralegal maintains her calendar, keeps clients informed of the status of their cases and performs legal work under her direction. Paralegals tend to have a hand in several aspects of the business.
What are some common paralegal job duties?
Interacting with clients
Most paralegals will find themselves having some sort of interaction with their firm’s clientele. You may find yourself helping to interview clients, gathering details of a case, or simply touching base to schedule appointments.
Researching & writing
Many paralegals act as a behind-the-scenes fact-checker, conducting research to assist with cases and writing reports on their findings.
Assisting with case prepAs a lawyer builds a case, he or she will often employ a paralegal as a second pair of eyes, helping ensure all of the bases are covered and the case is airtight. This may include helping to gather evidence or take notes during the trial.
What are some qualities that successful paralegals share?
Now that you have a better idea of what a paralegal does on a day-to-day basis, it’s important to determine if you have the natural characteristics to excel in this position.
Attention to detail
If you’re a detail-oriented person, you’re in luck! Paralegals are relied upon to pay attention to the smallest details so even the littlest things don’t slip through the cracks.
“It is important to maintain strong attention to detail when preparing legal documents that ultimately become part of a court record,” Sofferin explains. “It can be costly to a firm and a client to have to resubmit documents due to simple spelling or typographical errors.”
“Strong interpersonal skills are of the utmost importance to be an effective paralegal,” says David Reischer, Esq., founder of LegalAdvice.com
"My paralegal is my right hand."
Though much of a paralegal’s time may be spent researching and reporting, you’ll still be working with a variety of people— clients from varying backgrounds, lawyers and fellow paralegals among them. Being able communicate effectively and translate advance legal terms into everyday language is critical.
Strong organization skills
If you’re that person who has a nook and cranny for everything and knows just where to find it, then a paralegal position might be perfect for you. Impeccable organization will help you complete many of your tasks efficiently and effectively.
“As a lawyer's ‘right hand,’ a paralegal should be able to quickly locate items and information,” Sofferin says.
Why become a paralegal?
By now, you might be convinced you’re up for the task. But you’re still a bit hesitant to take the next steps in qualifying yourself for these paralegal positions. But our experts say there are some perks of the profession you should consider.
“The education requirements for becoming an entry-level paralegal are relatively low, making it an excellent career choice for those who are hesitant to commit financially or otherwise to a full degree program,” Sofferin says.
Many paralegal positions require only a two-year associate degree to get started, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Compared to the seven plus years you’d spend in law school, that’s music to your ears. The BLS also states that if you already have a bachelor’s degree, earning a paralegal certificate is another viable option to enter the field.
Valuable career advancement
As a paralegal you’ll work side-by-side with lawyers, gaining a practical understanding of how a law office and practice functions. You’ll also build a valuable network of references and relationships along the way, with the possibility of opening doors for future opportunities.
Favorable job outlook
Paralegal jobs are projected to increase 17% through 2022.
Before committing to earning a paralegal degree, you’ll want to be familiar with the current landscape of the industry. You’ll be happy to hear that jobs for paralegals are projected to increase at a faster-than-average rate of 17 percent through 2022, according to the BLS.
Reasonable earning potential
The BLS reports the median annual salary for paralegals in 2014 at $48,350.* Similar to most professions, your earning potential can increase as you acquire more experience. The top 10 percent of paralegals earned an average of $77,830 in the same year.
Before becoming a paralegal…
So what is a paralegal? You should now have a much better idea of this popular legal profession. For a closer look at what it’s REALLY like being a paralegal, check out this article: What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Paralegal.