10 Things to Know Before Becoming a Paralegal

If you are considering a career as a paralegal, you have probably already done some research. You know, for instance, that paralegals ( also called legal assistants) are not just junior lawyers. They may be people working on a law degree, but they may also be professionals who find a career as a legal assistant challenging and rewarding. You probably also know that they can earn good money and garner a lot of respect. Here, however, are some things you may not know about this career.

What is a Paralegal - Becoming a Paralegal
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Paralegals Work Hard

Some people think paralegals spend all their time sitting at their desks answering the phone. While that is probably part of the job, they also do a lot of the leg and prep work required to take a case to court. They research cases, interview witnesses, and help prepare them for trial, prepare and organize case files as well as taking and organizing trial notes. All of this must be communicated clearly to the attorney.

Paralegals Usually Work in Civil Suits, Divorce and other Litigation

Regardless of scenarios set by TV dramas, paralegals usually are not involved in earthshaking criminal cases. Nevertheless, the jobs they do are important. The preparatory work done by legal assistants could be the determining factor in deciding child custody. They may work in estate planning, corporate law and divorce cases, among others.

Paralegals Must be Detail-Oriented

Court cases often have filing deadlines which the legal assistant must observe. Legal briefs must be accurate. Figures and quotes have to be exact because the smallest mistake could have huge consequences for the client.

There are Several Educational Paths to Becoming a Paralegal

The minimum standard for paralegal education is a certificate that can be earned in a few months. Lawyers usually prefer legal assistants with associate or bachelor’s degrees and certification as well. An associate degree from places like ParalegalEDU.org contains the same legal preparation as the certificate but with some general education as well.

Associate degrees may be earned in 18 months. Bachelor’s degrees give students the foundation of general education with introductory legal studies. On this foundation, students can build specializations and deeper knowledge with certifications. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree may be earned in accredited online programs which allow students to continue with their current employment.

Continuing Education

“Paralegals must keep abreast of developments in the legal arena. That may involve taking courses, attending seminars and taking advantage of other forms of continuing education.

Long Hours

Paralegals don’t always observe office hours. If there is an approaching court date, legal assistants may need to finish briefs and draft other forms. They may have to travel to interview a witness or stay to brainstorm with an attorney. Basically, the career involves doing “whatever it takes” to get to court prepared and on time.

The Work is Determined by the Attorney

Some offices are very structured and set in the responsibilities of legal assistants while others allow more latitude.

Ethical Boundaries

Working in a paralegal career may place you in the uncomfortable position of having an employer with questionable ethics. You must maintain your ethical boundaries.

Professional Associations

Legal assistants are professionals. Networking, continuing education, professional support and other considerations are provided by organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants. They also provide outlets for continuing education and set standards for the paralegal profession.

Professionals, but not Lawyers

Legal assistants can perform many tasks, but they cannot represent clients in court, give legal advice, or perform any tasks assigned only to the attorney. They also are not allowed to take a case or charge fees for legal services

Paralegals are invaluable to the attorneys for whom they work. Their salaries reflect this fact. A paralegal bachelor degree may also be the springboard to further study and becoming a lawyer. For the right person, a career as a legal assistant may be a rewarding and satisfying profession.