The role of a paralegal in the law office today has changed significantly over the past twenty years. The paralegal profession began as a glorified secretary's position, working with the attorney in getting documents clearly written, organized and filed, and generally making sure that the little steps associated with each case were taken. Today it's a career that is highly sought after.
Attorneys have learned a couple of things about paralegals. The experienced paralegal can meet with clients, handle an initial interview, draft agreements and briefs an other legal documents, make sure those documents are filed with the appropriate court or agency, and do research that is worthy of any third year law student.
The second thing that attorneys discovered is that paralegals can perform all these tasks at a substantially lower pay grade than a junior member of the law firm. Good paralegals perform a wide variety of tasks working with the lead attorney on a case, which means that there is one less attorney for the firm to hire. Paralegal work can turn into an interesting career with a lot of variety in each day. Here are the steps to take if you are interested in this profession.
- You'll need a college degree. Most paralegals go job hunting with an associate's degree in paralegal studies, although significant numbers of people entering the market today hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field and a certificate or diploma in paralegal studies. Either level of education is good enough for an entry level position, but you also need to decide which corner of the legal field you wish to enter. Paralegals
- Talk with a paralegal in a corporate firm. Paralegals in this sector work on employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial reports. They may be responsible for monitoring federal regulatory rules for certain industries or clients. It's a rarified legal atmosphere; maybe it's an area you would enjoy.
- Spend some time in a personal injury or product liability firm. Meet with a paralegal working in that environment and learn what the job of gathering evidence and doing legal research entails. There's a lot of computer work involved in legal research; it's something you should observe firsthand to see if it's for you.
- Seek out a paralegal in a legal aid organization. It's in a storefront clinical environment that a paralegal has the most professional latitude. By law paralegals cannot give advice or argue cases in court, but in a legal aid organization a paralegal can provide a lot of aid. comfort and knowledge to people who have no understanding of the law. It can be a very rewarding field; you'll do a lot of everything; but in a public service agency it will never be a path to riches.