If you are in search of your next career move, or you want to pave the way for a new career path, then you may be considering a profession within the law sphere. There are many different roles within the legal system, with paralegal simply being one of them.
We may hear the term ‘paralegal’ in TV shows such as Law and Order and more, but it can be confusing to understand what a paralegal actually is and how this role differs from lawyers and attorneys.
If you are unsure of what a paralegal is, or what they do, then we can answer all of your questions here. So, let’s dive in.
What Is A Paralegal?
Paralegals are an integral and valued member of a legal team. As a result, paralegals will need extensive knowledge of the law, regulations and all legal matters, but they are not qualified lawyers (see also “How Much Do Lawyers Make?“).
Paralegals may work closely with lawyers and solicitors to support them, and they can work in a range of various cases, or specialize in a particular area of the law if they choose to.
The most common areas of expertise for paralegals are family law, corporate law, real estate law, criminal defense law, intellectual property law, and probate or estate planning law.
In the most basic terms, a paralegal will perform a range of tasks that support and assist attorneys at law (see also “What Is A PA?“). The day to day responsibilities may vary depending on their particular specialty, ranging from administrative tasks to research and investigatory duties.
A paralegal will work to support other legal professionals, and make work in a range of law firms for both public sector and private companies, or for not-for-profit organizations.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Paralegals may work in law firms, government agencies, corporate legal departments, and more.
Some individuals may become paralegals on their way to becoming a lawyer. This can be a stepping stone to progressing a career in law.
What this means is that some paralegals in the US may take on lower level cases, or be more involved in casework than others if they wish to become lawyers and build up their experience within a law firm.
What Do Paralegals Do?
A paralegal will have a range of responsibilities day to day in their role.
This could involve duties such as preparing legal documents, admin responsibilities, preparing legal quotes for clients, interviewing witnesses and clients, providing legal information, research, going to court, and overseeing a caseload of clients.
Some common duties may involve collecting documents, investigating the facts, writing reports, researching legal cases, drafting pleas and motions that will be filed in court, assisting attorneys throughout trials, dealing with civil case documents such as contracts, wills, separation agreements, and communicating with clients.
As a result, paralegals are a vital and varied role within the legal profession. That being said, tasks and responsibilities will vary depending on the location and company in which the paralegal works.
Some may have more administrative responsibilities, and may never spend time in the courtroom, whereas others may work more closely with lawyers and attorneys and may be required to work within a courtroom often.
How Is A Paralegal Different From A Lawyer?
A paralegal is different from a lawyer, as lawyers are licensed to practice law and to represent clients, whereas a paralegal is not.
Lawyers are more highly trained, and will earn more than a paralegal, but a paralegal may help lawyers with research, documentation and by communicating with witnesses and clients.
How Much Do Paralegals Earn?
Salaries for paralegals vary from state to state, and depending on the company in which they work for. The average base salary for a paralegal is around $54,444 per year according to Indeed.
However, in Los Angeles, paralegals may earn around $67,685, with similar wages in New York at around $66,644. In places such as Philadelphia, you are looking at around $54,308 per year, and around $61,607 per year in Chicago. It does vary.
In most places, some specialities will earn higher wages than others. For instance, according to Glassdoor, a Corporate Paralegal can earn around $69,769 per year, whereas an Immigration Paralegal earns around $53,433 per year on average.
How To Become A Paralegal?
If you want to be a paralegal, you will need an extensive and thorough understanding of the law. This means having some experience, or training through law studies in universities. To become a paralegal, there are a few steps that you can take.
For instance, you can undergo a paralegal degree or certificate program at a college or university. We recommend the National Association Of Legal Assistants Certified Paralegal certification or the Advanced Certified Paralegal from NALA.
You can also progress to the Professional Paralegal certification when qualified. Although there is no official certification needed to become a paralegal, it can be handy finding jobs and can give you a step up if you do have a certification.
It is also best to choose a degree program that relates to law. You will need some formal education such as an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, or a related field.
While a degree is not always required, it does give you an edge, as most professional organizations like the National Federation of Paralegal Associations recommend completing a program approved by the American Bar Association.
Upon completion of your degree, you will need to choose a speciality, so that you can gain experience and find an employer suited to your interests.
There may also be state requirements for the minimum education and practice to be a paralegal. Be sure to check the requirements in your state. Then, you will need to find a job or an internship to gain paralegal experience.
To summarize, a paralegal is someone who supports an attorney or lawyer.
They will need a thorough understanding of the law, in order to prepare legal documents, write reports, investigate and research cases, draft motions, plea agreements, or conduct interviews with clients, witnesses and much more.