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Paralegals And Legal Assistant Career

Career Description

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals might investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases.

Common Work Tasks

  • Prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled
  • Help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials
  • Organize and track files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys
  • Help draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements
  • Assist in preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates
  • Coordinate the activities of other law office employees and maintain financial office records
  • Use computer databases to retrieve, organize,  and index various materials
  • Assist attorneys with employee contracts,  shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans
  • Monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation they work for is aware of new requirements and is operating within the law

Other Job Titles

Paralegals and legal assistants are also known by other titles, including:

  • Legal Secretary
  • Law Clerk
  • Court Clerk
  • Municipal Clerk

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
 
There are several ways to become a paralegal or legal secretary. The most common is through a community college paralegal program that leads to an associate degree.  Another common method of entry, mainly for those who already have a college degree, is earning a certificate in paralegal studies. A small number of schools offer a bachelor’s and master’s degree in paralegal studies. Finally,  some employers train paralegals on the job.

Licensure and Certification
     
Although most employers do not require certification, earning a voluntary certification from a professional society may offer advantages in the labor market. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), for example, has established standards for certification requiring various combinations of education and experience. Paralegals who meet these standards are eligible to take a 2-day examination. Those who pass the exam may use the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) credential. The NALA also offers the Advanced Paralegal Certification for experienced paralegals who want to specialize. The Advanced Paralegal Certification program is a curriculum based program offered on the Internet.

Experience
  Paralegals need to understand legal terminology and have good research and investigative skills. Familiarity with the operation and applications of computers in legal research and litigation support also is important. Because paralegals frequently deal with the public, they should be courteous and uphold the ethical standards of the legal profession.

Salary

The median annual salary for Paralegals and Legal Assistants is $45,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $71,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $28,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of paralegals are:

  • Legal Services - $46,110
  • Federal Executive Branch - $59,180                         
  • Local Government - $46,380
  • State Government - $42,350
  • Employment Services - $51,800

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  22%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 53,000
  • Employment 2006 : 238,000
  • Employment 2016:  291,000
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