Paralegal Career Education and Advancement

by Staff - Original publish date: December 5, 2011

Job description
Paralegals are responsible for handling a variety of tasks and providing support for the lawyers they work for. Under the direction of an attorney, they work to resolve routine legal issues. They help lawyers to research laws, judicial decisions, articles, treaties, and other legal documents that can be applied to cases. They may also be responsible for preparing written reports to assist lawyers in handling cases. Paralegals hold an organizational role in coordinating the activities of the law office and its employees, and also in the filing of financial records and case documents.

Paralegals work mainly in law firms, legal departments within corporations, and government offices. Their job duties and responsibilities will depend mainly on the type of organization they work for. Paralegals working in the government or for larger corporations will tend to have a specialization, while those working in smaller firms will perform a variety of tasks.

A day in the life…
The majority of paralegals work in law firms, followed by corporate legal departments, and government offices. Paralegals working in corporations and for the government tend to work the standard 40-hour week, while those who work for law firms will likely work longer
hours. While most work in permanent positions, some work as temps during the busy seasons. Paralegals work mostly in offices and law libraries, and although rare, they will travel to gather information for cases.

Education and training
Paralegal training is usually required in the form of either an associate, bachelor's degree, or certification program. Employers usually prefer that candidates have a degree from a 4-year paralegal program, or a bachelor's degree with paralegal certification. Some employers prefer to train paralegals on the job or promote legal assistants to the position within the firm.

While there are over 800 paralegal programs offered nationwide, only about 250 of these are approved by the American Bar Association. And graduates of these approved programs will fare better in the job market. There are three main paralegal programs. Associate's degree programs last 2 years, bachelor's programs typically take 4 years, and certification programs will take around three months to complete. Paralegal programs include law courses and legal research training, along with coursework in specialized areas of law, as employers tend to prefer candidates with specilized training. The better programs will also include an internship in a law firm, organization, or government office in order to gain real-world experience and provide an edge when entering the job market.

Much like lawyers, paralegals are required to keep up with the latest laws and legal standards that may affect their area of practice through participation in continuing legal education (CLE). This is typically accomplished through legal education seminars and courses designed for paralegals to maintain and expand their legal knowledge.

Job outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field is expected to grow faster than average through 2010. Employment will be prompted mainly by law firms and employers in general hiring more paralegals. In the private sector, the largest employer of paralegals, demand will grow due to increased demand for legal services in areas such as healthcare, intellectual property, international law, sexual harassment, and environmental law. While in the public sector, the increasing amount of community legal-service programs will spur employment growth, and government agencies, consumer organizations, and courts will be hiring an increasing number of paralegals.

However, there will still be a high degree of competition present in this field, as the number of paralegal program graduates and individuals entering the field will grow significantly. Growth may also be slowed by future recessions, with those paralegals providing similar services as lawyers at an advantage during these times

Related occupations
Occupations that require similar skills and knowledge in law and legal procedures include law clerks, legal assistants, lawyers, examiners, abstractors, claims adjustors, appraisers, and investigators.