Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, closings, and corporate meetings. Law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments employ the majority of paralegals. Although many employers do not require certification, a paralegal is likely to have a degree or certificate in paralegal studies.
Many tasks, such as researching laws and judicial decisions relevant to a case, can be delegated to paralegals. A paralegal may also help an attorney organize case documents and prepare reports that an attorney can use to make recommendations on a case. A paralegal can also draft documents like motions and pleadings, as well as obtain affidavits.
Although a paralegal’s responsibilities vary depending on the type of office where he or she works, he or she is usually capable of drafting contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. Other paralegals may be able to help with estate planning and tax preparation. Paralegals are not permitted law to perform certain tasks that are reserved for attorneys, such as presenting a case, providing legal advice, or determining legal fees. Because it is more cost effective to use a paralegal rather than an attorney for some tasks, the paralegal field is rapidly expanding.
Paralegals can work in a variety of areas of law, including immigration, labor law, personal injury, and criminal law. Some paralegals specialize in one area of law, such as litigation, corporate law, bankruptcy, or real estate. Paralegals perform the majority of duties in an office or a law library, regardless of the field of law.
A paralegal working in a corporate setting will most likely perform tasks that a paralegal working for a law firm or the government would not. Paralegals may work with employee benefits and contracts, prepare annual reports, or review government regulations in the workplace. A legal assistant in a government agency might conduct research on laws, agency policies, or regulations. A paralegal who works for a community service agency may prepare forms and documents for citizens who require legal assistance. Paralegals in law firms may specialize in a particular area of law or coordinate the firm’s employees.
Documentation, presentation, research, and investigation are all skills that a paralegal should possess. Paralegals must also be well-versed in legal jargon and possess strong computer skills. Because of the nature of the job, a paralegal must be ethical and able to communicate effectively with the public. Students learn how to conduct legal research and use software programs with legal applications in a paralegal training program. Some paralegal programs include an internship component in which students gain valuable experience working in a law firm, department, or organization.