Attorneys are ultimately responsibility for the legal services they provide their clients; paralegals - also known as legal assistants - help attorneys in almost every aspect of their work. Being one of the fastest growing careers nationwide, those with paralegal training will be able to find jobs in every part of the country.
The American Bar Association (ABA) defines the role of a paralegal or legal assistant as an individual that is capable by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
Paralegals provide valuable assistance to attorneys by helping them prepare for closings, hearing, trials and corporate meetings. Paralegals also assist attorneys at trials, draft contracts and agreements, and assist in estate planning. The valuable employees also maintain office financial records, and coordinate the activities of law office employees. Their duties can also include researching legal documents, finding witnesses, getting affidavits, and tracking case files. Depending on where you choose to work, your paralegal duties can vary widely.
The most common paralegal programs are associates degree programs offered at community colleges or specialized schools. There are approximately 1,000 colleges and universities, law schools, and proprietary schools that offer recognized paralegal training programs. These are generally 2-year programs. There are also certificate programs and online paralegal programs. Certificate programs are an equally popular paralegal training option. Most certificate programs are intended for students who have an associates or bachelors degree. Some certificate programs only call for a high school diploma or GED for admission. Certificate programs are generally completed in several months. There are also a small number of schools that offer 4-year bachelors and/or master's degrees in paralegal studies.
Paralegal degree and certificate programs usually include courses that introduce students to law and legal research methods. Some students might choose to study a specialized legal area such as probate or real estate. Paralegals in small to medium-size law firms typically carry out duties that require general law comprehension. Paralegals employed by large law firms, government agencies, and corporations, are generally likely to be specialized. The legal assistant paralegal occupation is expected to grow by 33% during the first 10 years of 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With projections of growth, now is a good time to earn your paralegal degree.
Job opportunities in the paralegal profession are projected to remain strong as paralegals are increasingly performing many legal tasks that were formerly carried out by lawyers.
Though private law firms are the biggest employer of paralegal, many other organizations are utilizing the services of paralegals to increase efficiency in their in house legal departments. Paralegal employment is expected to increase as organizations presently employing paralegals assign them a growing range of tasks and as paralegals are more and more in employment in small and mid size establishments.
Salary earnings of paralegals and legal assistants depend on education, training, experience, the type and size of employer, and the geographic location of the job. Paralegals who work for large legal firms earn more than those who work for smaller firms. And paralegals who work in large metropolitan areas earn more than those who work in less populated regions. Many paralegals receive bonuses in addition to their salary, which can be an attractive feature to the paralegal field. According to the bureau of labor statistics, in May 2004, full-time wage and salary paralegals and legal assistants had median annual earnings, including bonuses, of $39,130.