Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers.
What they do
Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.
Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:
- Investigate and gather the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
- Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
- Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
- File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions
Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings.
Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.
Paralegals’ specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work. The following are examples of types of paralegals and legal assistants:
Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies’ annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.
Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.
Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.
In small firms, paralegals’ duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.
In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.
Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal’s work is often billed to the client.
Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.
Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.
Paralegals do most of their work in offices. Occasionally, they may travel to gather information, collect and review documents, accompany attorneys to depositions or trials, and do other tasks.
Some of the work can be fast-paced, and paralegals must be able to work on multiple projects under tight deadlines.
How to become a Paralegal and/or Legal Assistant
Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.
There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. A common path is for candidates to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution.
However, many employers may prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, applicants will typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.
Associate and bachelor's degree programs in legal or paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.
Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job.
Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program.
Some national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria.
The median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $51,740 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,160, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,500.
Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
As law firms try to increase the efficiency of legal services and reduce their costs, they are expected to hire more paralegals and legal assistants. In these cases, paralegals and legal assistants can take on a “hybrid” role within the firm, performing not only traditional paralegal duties but also some of the tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries or other legal support workers.
Law firms also are attempting to reduce billing costs as clients push for less expensive legal services. Due to their lower billing rates to clients, paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers, performing a wide variety of tasks once done by entry-level lawyers. This should cause an increase in demand for paralegals and legal assistants.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Paralegal, Corporate Law Assistant, Law Associate, Legal Analyst, Legal Assistant, Litigation Paralegal, Paralegal, Paralegal Assistant, Paralegal Specialist, Real Estate Paralegal
Billing, Cost and Rate Clerk; Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerk; Brokerage Clerk; Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistant; Legal Secretary
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association for Justice
- American Bar Association
- American Health Lawyers Association
- DRI- The Voice of the Defense Bar
- Federal Bar Association
- International Municipal Lawyers Association
- National Association of Bond Lawyers
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- National Bar Association
Magazines and Publications
- Attorney at Law Magazine
- The Lawyer Magazine
- New Law Journal
- The NewJurist Magazine
- Family Lawyer Magazine
- Modern Law Magazine
High-stakes, high-speed, and—at times—high-stress, the workings of the world of law are supported by the efforts of paralegals and legal assistants. These law professionals help lawyers prepare for hearings and trials, draft documents, and coordinate electronic materials, such as emails, accounting databases, and websites related to a trial or investigation. They gather case facts and dig into related laws and regulations, write up reports, and schedule meetings and interviews with witnesses, lawyers, and others. Not all paralegals work with trial lawyers … Corporate paralegals help prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, and financial reports. They stay current with regulations to give up-to-date information. Paralegals also specialize in areas such as criminal law, intellectual property, immigration, and family law. Most paralegals work for law firms. Some are employed in government or the finance and insurance industries. In small firms, paralegals’ have more varied duties and their work lasts the duration of a case… while in large firms, paralegals may focus on a particular phase of a case. Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time in an office environment, adding overtime to meet deadlines. They may occasionally travel for research or preparation for trials. Most employers prefer applicants who have an associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree in another field, sometimes with a certificate in paralegal studies.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org