How to Become a Paralegal

The process of dispensing justice is complex, and it takes many hands and heads to ensure that justice is done. Right from the law enforcement agencies, to lawyers, judges, courts, and the support staff that makes this possible, all play an important role in the process. If you are the kind of person who believes in the ideas of fairness and justice, who enjoys researching and analyzing information, you may have it in you, what it takes to become a paralegal. These professionals assist a lawyer, in his research and lay all the groundwork for the case being argued, under his supervision.

Are you the kind of person who follows John Grisham novels? Do you enjoy watching and following courtroom dramas? Were you interested in being a part of the high school debating team but rather than arguing, you enjoyed being the researcher? Are you the kind of person who, instead of dashing into the limelight, prefers being in the background and doing your job thoroughly? Then, you should think about becoming a paralegal.

Job Description
Although, a paralegal is a legal assistant to a lawyer, he has no right to independently advise anybody on legal matters. An experienced legal assistant is like a lawyer’s shadow. He does a range of tasks, which primarily include the following:

– Handling of client interviews
– Contacting and following up with clients
– Conducting case investigation and witnessing interviews under a lawyer’s supervision
– Perform case background research and investigate facts
– Work on preparation of legal arguments
– Drafting legal arguments
– Organizing the entire documentation of case proceedings, research, and other paperwork
– Courtroom assistance to the lawyer during trial

These professionals are hired by law firms and individual lawyers, either as freshers or for their expertise in specific backgrounds. An experienced professional may decide to become a freelancer and work on a contract basis, for specific cases, with different lawyers. Employment opportunities exist in government offices, corporate companies, and even consumer organizations. This is definitely a great career for a person, who is willing to devote himself to acquiring expertise in legal assistance and applying it to streamline the procedure, for preparing a case.

Steps To Become One
Let us know about the educational background and certification, as well as the skill set, that you need to acquire. Here are some guidelines.

To become a certified paralegal, one needs to get a degree or certificate from a course conducted by any accredited educational institution, approved by the American Bar Association. It is good to go for such a course, after acquiring a bachelor’s degree, as most legal firms require it.

You require a maximum of four years of education, if you go for a degree course and two years for a certificate course. Cost to become one, will depend on the kind of institution and type of course you opt for. Some paralegals are chosen by companies or law firms, for their expertise in specialized fields of law and are later trained on the job.

One of the most essential skills required, is having an eye for minor details, understanding of legal procedures, and an ability to work hard. Skilled lawyers will never be short of work and neither will paralegals.

Paralegal Job Description

If you are interested in a career as a paralegal, than look no further. The job is very similar to that of a lawyer, with the exception that the former can’t offer legal advice or represent cases in the court of law. These professionals step in to help the lawyers do the many tasks that are needed to build a court case.

Educational and Skill Requirements

A paralegal is required to have effective communication skills. He should have a thorough knowledge of legal terminology. Most of them specialize in the litigation process and are fully qualified to help out the attorneys. The educational requirement for this job is the knowledge of law and computers. You can take a certificate course to become one. Bachelor or Associate degrees are also available. These degrees take about two years for completion. You can also voluntarily opt for related certifications from National Association of Legal Assistants, National Federation of Paralegal Associations, or American Alliance of Paralegals. The work environment in this job is mainly indoors with occasional visits to law libraries and courts. These professionals work in many industries apart from the legal world, depending on the area of specialization they choose. For example, there are patent, bankruptcy, nurse, immigration, and real estate paralegals.

Duties and Responsibilities

He is responsible for collecting relevant information related to a case such as researching the case laws, etc. He is supposed to crosscheck the facts and their validity. These professionals help the lawyers by doing the preliminary research before a legal document can be prepared. They perform the task of summarizing and checking legal documents. The drafting of documents is handled by them. Simple tasks like locating the witnesses, preparing the pleading, and obtaining affidavits are carried out by these professionals. They also, at times, keep track of files and transcripts and organize meetings. In short, they do the groundwork for the lawyer and assist him in his job. Since different types of paralegals specialize in different industries, their job description also differs. A nurse paralegal often works with attorneys who have cases relating to medicine. These professionals are specialized in medicine. A real estate paralegal has experience in the real estate industry and helps with case building and collecting research for the cases involving real estate. Bankruptcy paralegals are in high demand these days and are involved with cases pertaining to bankruptcy laws. Immigration paralegals assist clients through the process of immigration. Job description of those like patent paralegals varies accordingly. There are a plenty of career opportunities in this field as one gains a lot of experience to become a full-fledged legal attorney.

Salary

According to several surveys, the average salary is around USD 54,000 per annum. Paralegals working with law firms get paid the most. Salary for beginners can vary from USD 38,000 to USD 47,000 per annum, depending on whether they work for government or a corporate firm.

Working as such a professional can help a person interested in the field of law in getting the required exposure. Thus, try exploring as much as you can about this profession, and also make sure that you are firm with your decision of pursuing this career.