How To Become A Paralegal
A paralegal works in the legal world by giving support lawyers in various ways. For example, you will help look into the facts of a case and ascertain the events that happened before, during and after a crime. You will research on the applicable laws, regulations and ordinances that will have a bearing on the case at hand. You will also be tasked with gathering evidence which a lawyer could evaluate to determine if it can be used in the case at hand.
As a paralegal, an important part of your job is drafting reports and preparing legal forms. Depending on the matter being handled, you may be asked to prepare bankruptcy petitions, contracts, leases, mortgages, trial briefs, complaints and appeals. Although the lawyer will check the final document, you still need to make sure that the draft you make will be free from errors as much as possible. Avoiding mistakes will not only enable you to keep your job but enhance your professionalism and trustworthiness in the eyes of your employer.
An important part of the work you do as a paralegal is meeting clients and interviewing them about the cases they are involved in. Most of the time, you will be enlightening them about the legal process or if they will be taking the stand, you will be orienting them on the kinds of questions they can expect to get thrown at them by the lawyer of the other party. You will also be interviewing witnesses and convincing them to testify. You will also be asked to get affidavits which can be used as evidence.
To succeed in this profession, you need to genuinely enjoy the law and the intricacies of the legal process. This is a job that will entail a lot of research on applicable laws, resolutions and policies, so you need to find enjoyment in leafing through voluminous pages of legal documents and relating this to the case at hand.
You also need to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills since you will be meeting with clients and interviewing them. Having the ability to persuade individuals is also an important skill that all paralegals should possess because you may need to convince witnesses who are unsure about testifying to take the stand. Since you will be asked to file documents and retrieve them, you need to be a highly-organized individual as well.
Why Become A Paralegal
There are a lot of reasons to become a paralegal. First, it allows those who want to work in the legal profession to do so without requiring the same amount of time and money that a lengthy law degree would entail. It is also fulfilling to help clients find solutions to some of their legal troubles without having to bill them very large amounts. Since paralegals are under the supervision of lawyers, the stress level is not as high in this profession. Although they strive to provide quality and accurate work, their final output will always be up for final review by lawyers, lessening the pressure on their shoulders somewhat.
Organizing documents and files in the office is also an important part of the work of paralegals. As such, you need to have knowledge of electronic database management and software programs used to organize records. You may also need to do administrative tasks like scheduling interviews and meetings and reminding the lawyer you work for of the court hearings and document filing deadlines.
On the practical aspect, paralegals also receive decent wages. The employment rate for this profession is set to grow faster than the national average in the next few years and as such, there will be a lot of job opportunities in the field.
Paralegal Work Environment
An estimated 72 percent of paralegals and legal assistants are employed by the legal services industry, working mainly for law firms. Five percent were hired by the federal government and another five percent work with local governments. State governments employed four percent of paralegals while three percent worked for companies operating in the finance and insurance industries.
The work schedule for paralegals and legal assistants is typically fulltime. When they are preparing documents or researching a case, they do most of their work in the office or the law firm’s law library. On some days, they may be required to accompany the lawyer to court hearings while at other times, they may be required to go to other places to interview witnesses and get depositions.
A paralegal career enables one to work in the legal field without having to go through the intensive process of studying to get a law degree. As legal assistants, they may not make as much as what lawyers make but since they can get an entry level job with just an associate’s degree, the difference in pay is quite understandable. Paralegals work in various industries, although majority of them served in the legal services industry as assistants to lawyers in private firms.
Although the paralegals who work in the federal government are not as numerous as those who worked in the legal services industry, they are among the highest paid. The other highly-paid paralegals work in the finance and insurance industries and local governments.
Experience and specialization will also matter in determining how much a paralegal is expected to receive. Those who have worked a long time in the profession may be promoted to a managerial position where they oversee junior paralegals and legal assistants. Paralegals that specialize in intellectual property, real estate and litigation also get higher pay than paralegals that don’t specialize.
The pay that paralegals receive also depends on their qualifications and the law firm they are connected with. Legal assistants who have undergone certification, have a bachelor’s degree and possess substantial work experience in the field can generally expect to receive higher pay than those who aren’t certified, only have an associate’s degree and don’t have work experience.
Paralegals who work for smaller law firms are also paid less than those connected with larger offices in urban areas. Paralegals living in big cities also have to contend with higher costs of living compared to those practicing in rural areas.
Average Paralegal Annual Salary
The average annual salary for paralegals is $53,910 a year. Salaries start at $31,130 a year and go up to $81,180 a year.
Average Paralegal Hourly Wage
The average hourly wage for a paralegal is $25.92. Hourly wages are between $14.97 and $39.03 an hour.
Stats were based out of 290,410 employed paralegals in the United States.
Highest Paying States For Paralegals
- 1. District of Columbia $37.67 / hr $78,350 / yr
- 2. Alaska $30.22 / hr $62,860 / yr
- 3. New Jersey $29.64 / hr $61,650 / yr
- 4. Washington $28.98 / hr $60,280 / yr
- 5. Connecticut $28.92 / hr $60,150 / yr
Top Paying Cities For Paralegals
- 1. Oxnard, CA $40.08 / hr$83,370 / yr
- 2. San Francisco, CA $38.27 / hr$79,600 / yr
- 3. San Jose, CA $37.61 / hr$78,220 / yr
- 4. Washington, DC $34.62 / hr$72,010 / yr
- 5. Napa, CA $34.24 / hr$71,210 / yr
Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Paralegal Career Outlook
The employment outlook for paralegals and legal assistants is very positive in the next few years. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that from 2012 to 2022, the profession is forecasted to experience an employment rate growth of 17 percent. This rate is considered faster than the national average and is expected to add 46,200 paralegals and legal assistants to the 277,000 employed in 2012.
The demand will come from the thrust of law companies to make legal services more affordable to their clients. More paralegals will also be hired by companies seeking to save on their legal costs by hiring their own in-house legal counsels.
For many paralegals, the entry point is either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, with the latter having an edge in terms of employer’s hiring preferences. There are some who are hired with only a bachelor’s degree and without any paralegal background and are trained on the job. Those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to work as a paralegal can opt to earn a certificate in paralegal studies which is offered in community colleges.
Many paralegals opt to get voluntary certification to enhance their chances of getting employed. They will need to pass educational and work requirements before they can take an exam in order to be certified.