Paralegal Career: What Do They Do, and How You Can Become One in 2014?
Have you ever asked, “What is a paralegal?” Simply defined, a paralegal is a person who performs tasks, under attorney supervision, that the attorney otherwise would do. Paralegals are forbidden by law to provide legal advice and cannot represent clients in court, but they sometimes act as court-appointed special advocates. At times, paralegals also serve as agency representatives in proceedings outside regular courts.
Paralegals perform a wide variety of work related to the field of law. They often research laws, analyze and organize information, and prepare documents. They relay important facts to attorneys and, with attorney approval, they relay facts to the law firm’s clients. Paralegals also may assist attorneys in court by organizing all materials that may be needed, transporting files to the courtroom, and quickly locating each item for attorney use as it is needed.
How to Become a Paralegal
If you have a high school diploma or GED, it is possible to become a paralegal at any age. You can become qualified through education, training or work experience as well as through certain combinations of these paths.
One option is to enroll in either a two-year or four-year program specifically designed for paralegals. During your course of study, you will want to research opportunities for future employment. If you can line up an internship with a law firm, you will have both experience and a networking connection to assist in finding full-time employment in your field once you complete your studies.
In your efforts to secure an internship, keep in mind that any business, non-profit organization or government entity that utilizes the services of an attorney also might allow or encourage internships for paralegals. Be persistent in your search, and do not prejudge before you inquire.
An alternate method of becoming a paralegal is to secure office work in any field, gain some experience, then pursue employment as a receptionist or secretary in a law firm. Once the attorneys there get to know you and recognize your talents and work ethics, make it known that you would like to work for them as a paralegal. In the meantime, take online classes that prepare you for the work.
In choosing a program for your studies, whether online or at a school of higher education, select from those that are looked upon favorably by the legal world. One source of information is the Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs, which lists programs in your state that have received the American Bar Association’s stamp of approval. Another information source is the 2013 Paralegal School Directory, published by Paralegal Today.
Once you meet the basic requirements to become a paralegal, which vary from state to state, you can increase the odds of being successful in your chosen field by passing a professional exam to earn the Certified Paralegal credential, which is held in high regard by law firms nationwide.
In 2012, annual earnings for paralegals throughout the United States averaged $46,990. This is equal to $22.59 per hour. The job outlook is excellent, with a projected growth rate for the next ten years that is higher than average. The rate of pay varies greatly from region to region and from one office to another. Part of this fluctuation is due to the many differences in responsibilities assigned to paralegals.
Paralegal work spans many environments. You may work for an attorney in a law office. You might instead be based at a prison or school. You could find yourself going to work each day at the legal office of a non-profit corporation or private business. Wherever the services of attorneys are needed, you may be able to provide services too. From arson to wire fraud and from automobile accidents to zoning, situations that have legal aspects hold opportunities for paralegals to provide invaluable support to attorneys and their clients.