Even though lawyers are ultimate responsibile for legal work, they often have paralegals help them with many of their tasks. In fact, paralegals – also know as legal assistants – are continuing to take on new responsibilities in law firms and have many of the same daily tasks as lawyers. Notwithstanding, they are prohibited from carrying out legal duties that are considered to be within the realm of practice of law, such as providing legal advice, setting fees for legal services, and presenting court cases.
One of the most important duties of a paralegal is to help lawyers prepare for trials, hearings, closings, and corporate meetings. Paralegals often investigate the facts of a case and are responsible for investigating the facts that ensuring that all relevant information is considered. Paralegals are also responsible for identifying appropriate laws, legal articles, judicial decisions, and other materials that are important to assigned cases. After paralegals organize and analyze the information, they may also prepare written reports that lawyers use in figuring out how cases should be presented. If attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals will often help prepare the legal arguments, draft motions and pleadings to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and help the attorneys throughout the trials. Paralegals also track and organize legal files of all important case documents and make sure they are available and easily accessible to attorneys during the trial.
In addition to helping attorneys prepare for trail, they also perform a number of other duties. For example, they help draft mortgages, contracts, and separation agreements. Paralegals may also assist in the preparation of tax returns, establishment trust funds, and estate planning. Some paralegals are even responsible for coordinating the activities of other legal staff and maintaining financial records for the legal office where they work.
Paralegals use specialized computer software packages as well as the Internet are to search legal literature found in computer databases and CD-ROMs. In cases involving large amounts of supporting documentation, paralegals may use computer databases to find, organize, and index a variety of materials. New imaging software enables paralegals to scan documents into databases, while billing programs assist them in tracking client hours. Computer software packages assist paralegals with performing tax computations and exploring the implications of various tax strategies for their employers legal clients.
Paralegals work in all types of organizations and companies, but most work with corporate legal departments, law firms, and a variety government offices. Employed with these organizations, paralegals can work in many different areas of the law, including personal injury, litigation, corporate law, employee benefits, criminal law, intellectual property, bankruptcy, labor law, immigration, family law, and real estate. As the law and legal systems grows in complexity, paralegals are becoming more specialized. Within specialties, functions and responsibilities are frequently broken down further. For example, paralegals that specialize in labor law may concentrate almost exclusively on employee benefits. However, for paralegal employed by small and medium-size law firms, duties and tasks are usually more general.
The tasks of paralegals differ widely according to the type of organization for which they work. Corporate paralegals often assist attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial reports, maintain corporate minutes' record resolutions, and prepare forms to secure loans for the corporation. Corporate paralegals often monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new requirements and is operating within the law. Increasingly, experienced corporate paralegals or paralegal managers are assuming additional supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects. The duties of paralegals who work in the public sector usually vary by agency. In general, litigation paralegals analyze legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for attorneys, and collect and analyze evidence for agency hearings. They may prepare informative or explanatory material on laws, agency regulations, and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public. Paralegals employed in community legal-service projects help the poor, the aged, and others who are in need of legal assistance. They file forms, conduct research, prepare documents, and, when authorized by law, may represent clients at administrative hearings. Lawyers supervise paralegals, also known as legal assistants. Paralegals conduct legal research, prepare trial notes, interview clients, assist with legal briefs, review and update files, and draft documents.
Paralegals have traditionally been trained on the job, but many paralegals are now being trained in programs offered by community colleges, business schools, and universities. Students must take general education and legal courses.
Legal assistants usually do not need to be certified, but the Certifying Board of Legal Assistants of the National Association of Legal Assistants offers legal assistants the opportunity to take a 2 day test to become certified.
Paralegals are required to prepare documents for their supervising attorneys while meeting deadlines and writing clearly. Legal assistants need good listening skills since they interview clients. Speaking a foreign language is helpful. Paralegals must honor client confidentiality, have computer and word processing skills, and be effective researchers.
Salary and Benefits
Paralegal salaries vary depending on job responsibilities, location, and their attorney's legal specialty. Paralegals in smaller firms usually earn between $1,300-1,800 monthly while experienced paralegals working for the federal government earn between $20,000-25,000 annually. In 1994, The National Association of Legal Assistants discovered that the average annually salary of legal assistants was $31,000. Attorneys usually provide paralegals with benefits.
Paralegals spend most of their days in offices or libraries. Paralegals meet clients at their homes or businesses and assist attorneys in the courtroom. Typically, they work 40 hour weeks but often work extra to meet deadlines.
Job growth for paralegals is excellent. There are currently 111,000 paralegals in the United States, and job opportunities for graduates with a degree are excellent.
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