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Paralegal Career Facts - Becoming a Paralegal

Becoming a Paralegal

To become a paralegal you must be willing to accept a high level of responsibility, meet deadlines, read and think critically, and write well. The attorneys that you work for will be taking responsibility for your work, so you must be able to produce a high-quality product. But, more importantly, you are working for your clients, and your success means theirs. So, if you are interested in the fast-paced environment of a law firm or a legal career, you should consider the schools below, all of which offer programs that can help you become a paralegal. Simply click on the links suggested to receive complimentary information about the schools and programs of your choice.

Paralegal Career Facts

Paralegals used to train on the job. But now, because more of them are formally educated in the field, many carry out tasks that used to be performed by lawyers.

Paralegal Career Description

Paralegals help lawyers prepare their cases. While they are not allowed to do anything that the state deems the practice of law-such s giving legal advice, performing in court or setting fees-they are an integral part of almost every activity their lawyer does. They review and organize information, help lawyers prepare opening and closing arguments and prepare written reports.

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Paralegal Career Details

The specific tasks of a paralegal depend greatly on the size of the firm for which they are working. In smaller and medium-sized firms, they might spend the majority of their time conducting research that requires a broad understanding of the law. In larger law firms and government agencies, many specialize in one aspect of the law. Paralegals who work for community legal-service projects work on all sorts of cases for those who can not afford a private lawyer. On the whole, most paralegals are responsible for drafting paperwork-estate plans, contracts, tax returns, mortgages, separation agreements, and the like. While their work is always overseen by a lawyer, the paralegal has many of the same responsibilities. For community law centers, paralegals are occasionally allowed to represent a client at a hearing.

Paralegal Career Specializations

Trained paralegals often pick the environment they desire based on their interests. Those who want to work in a more hands-on fashion with their clients and have greater autonomy usually work at community law centers. Those who have a strong business background or interest in business and finance work for large corporations, where the lawyers are focused on stockholder reports and annual earnings statements. For a paralegal that has a strong basis in a particular area, such as labor law, the government is the employer of choice-being so large, it can hire specialists as its legal assistants. And for those who want a constantly changing caseload, a smaller law firm will provide that stimulation.

Paralegal Career Working Environment

Most of the work of a paralegal is done at a desk or in a law library, although sometimes travel might be necessary in order to gather facts. A 40-hour workweek is normal, although court deadlines might mean occasional overtime.

Paralegal Career Required Training

Formal paralegal training is available in the form of a bachelor's degree, associate degree or certification program. The highest educational qualification is to hold both a bachelor's degree and a certificate. There are 800 formal training programs in colleges and universities in the United States, and 247 are approved by the American Bar Association. Admission to these programs depends on the institution-some require a high school diploma, others a college degree. Some lawyers like to hire paralegals that have no legal experience, so they can be trained on the job. Others promote their legal secretaries to paralegals. Still others like to pull people from other fields in which they are experts, and use that knowledge to the lawyers' advantage.

Paralegal Career Coursework

Those training to become paralegals will find themselves studying law and legal research techniques, real estate, estate planning and probate, litigation, family law, contracts and criminal law. Those who are looking for acceptance into one of these programs should be sure they have a strong understanding of computers and research, and have excellent written and verbal communications skills.

Paralegal Career Future Job Outlook

Legal offices have discovered that giving paralegals more responsibility lowers their cost of operation. Therefore, this field is expected to grow in the next ten years, as firms hire paralegals instead of lawyers. However, competition will be stiff, as the number of people registered in paralegal programs is higher than the number of available openings on law staffs. Private law firms are the largest employers of paralegals, but other companies (such as banks and insurance firms) will also hire paralegals instead of full-time lawyers. Prepaid legal plans, now taking off, will also increase demand. Some paralegals are now opening their own businesses, in response to demand.

Paralegal Salary

The earnings of paralegals vary greatly according to experience and the staff for which they work. In 2010, they had a median annual earning of $46,680.

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