How to Become a Paralegal/Legal Assistant

How to Become a Paralegal/Legal Assistant

Paralegals, also referred to as legal assistants, are steadily becoming the backbone of the law industry, as well as one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. Already vital for the support services they provide, paralegals are in greater demand now than ever. As law firms, corporate entities, and government agencies face a challenging economic environment, many are downsizing by reducing the number of lawyers in their legal departments. This creates an excellent opportunity for paralegals, who not only help maximize each lawyer’s efficiency, but also help maximize budget allocations by performing many tasks formerly conducted only by lawyers.

What does a paralegal/legal assistant do?

Legal assistants enjoy a wide range of responsibilities, which vary depending on their employers. Primarily, legal assistants serve as support staff for lawyers through the gathering and analyzing of information relevant to court cases. They assist lawyers in their preparations for hearings, trials, and closings. They research legal articles, opinions, and precedents, draft legal documents, analyze depositions, and prepare motions and pleas for court filing. They are also able to answer interrogations submitted to their clients.

Paralegals cannot give legal advice, represent clients in court, or sign documents on behalf of clients. However, their responsibilities can include drafting documents, including mortgages, wills, contracts, titles, and separation agreements. They also may assist with estate planning, tax return preparation, and the creation of trust funds. Senior paralegals often manage other legal support staff in larger office environments.

Many legal assistants specialize in particular fields, such as litigation, family law, real estate, intellectual property, health care, environmental issues, or labor law. Such specializations can lead to rapid career advancement in many different types of agencies. They may also enable legal assistants to work independently, as contract employees. Click here to find out how to become a paralegal or legal assistant.

What kind of training does a paralegal/legal assistant need?

The minimum educational requirement for paralegals is a certificate through the American Alliance of Paralegals, National Association of Legal Assistants, or other qualified association. Most hiring agents prefer an associate degree law or criminal justice or higher. In addition, some states mandate annual continuing education credits. (1)

What are the prospects for a career as a paralegal/legal assistant?

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicates strong career prospects for legal assistants. Employment rates are expected to grow by about 22% (53,000 legal assistant jobs), by 2016, which is well above the national growth average. The majority of legal assistants (about 70%) work for law firms, while the remainder of these positions are with government organizations and commercial legal departments. (1)

How much do paralegals/legal assistants make?

Salaries for entry-level employees range start at around $28,300. As an employee advances to senior management positions, potential earnings increase to $71,400 or more. (2) Click here for a list of online legal assistant programs.

A career as a paralegal will be diverse and challenging. The strong outlook for future hiring needs, opportunity for rapid advancement, and high salary make them excellent choices for Law and Criminal Justice program graduates. Click here to find your path to a paralegal or legal assistant career.

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