Your Career As a Legal AssistantKevin Wolfe
October 18, 2011 — 1,003 views
A legal assistant, or paralegal, is a non-lawyer who helps lawyers do legal work both in and out of the courtroom. The main task of a legal assistant is to prepare the documentation needed by the lawyer in case work and trials; they also work in the corporate settings. The legal assistant conducts a case investigation of all information relevant to the case, and then the findings and the analyses are formalized into written reports that are submitted to the attorneys. Oftentimes, they also send recommendations about how a case could be best handled.
Once a case gets accepted, the paralegal then assists in the preparation of legal arguments, drafts pleadings and motions that need to be filed with the court, and provides actual physical assistance during hearings. Paralegals also take charge of maintaining the track files. Other tasks include preparing tax returns, setting up trust funds, planning mortgages, as well as drafting contracts and other forms of legal agreements. They may also be asked to maintain financial records.
Though mostly employed by law firms, paralegals or legal assistants can also be employed by corporate legal departments and by various government offices. They then get the opportunity to work on a wide range of matters that are covered by the law other than litigation, such as personal injury cases, cases pertaining to corporate law, criminal law and labor law, bankruptcy cases, immigration, family law cases, cases pertaining to intellectual property rights and real estate.
The actual work that legal assistants do will depend on the type of organizations they work for.
- Corporate paralegals may be required to monitor and review government regulations as these relate to the compliance by the corporation. In addition, they may be asked to assume supervisory functions in team projects.
- Paralegals in the public sector focus on agency-related tasks. Aside from conducting analysis of legal materials for agency use, they may be tasked to prepare informative or explanatory materials on legislation, agency regulations, and agency policies both for agency and public use.
- Paralegals in community legal service projects help the disadvantaged in the community who need legal assistance.
Most legal assistants hold degrees in paralegal studies. Some hold a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies. There are, however, employers who prefer to train their own paralegals on the job.
At the moment, there are approximately 260 American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited paralegal programs in more than 1,000 colleges and universities, law schools, and proprietary schools that offer formal paralegal training programs. Although this is not a requirement of employers, a diploma from an ABA-approved program can enhance employment opportunities. There are training programs that include internships designed to give a student hands-on experience in paralegal work.
There are organizations that have established standards for paralegal certification. These include the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), and the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS). The NALA, the NFPA, and a few states have established ethical guidelines for paralegals to follow.
A career as a paralegal offers much promise. Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow by 28 percent between 2008 and 2018. This is because employers have lately resorted to hiring paralegals rather than lawyers for internal legal matters, without sacrificing quality and efficacy. And in view of this, it is no wonder then that the job of a paralegal has rapidly gained popularity and has been tagged as one of the six high-paying jobs that require only a two-year Associate degree.
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