What Is A Paralegal?
A paralegal is an individual who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
From the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) [US]: “A paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.
This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts
What Paralegal Preform
Paralegals perform tasks requiring knowledge of the law and legal procedures. The exact nature of their work and limitations that the law places on the tasks they are allowed to undertake vary between nations and jurisdictions. A paralegal is not a lawyer but is typically employed by a law office or internal legal department of a company. Paralegals generally are not allowed to offer legal services independently in most jurisdictions.
Paralegals operate under a form of independent legal ethics and, with few exceptions, must also conduct their work under the formal supervision of an attorney. In some jurisdictions, paralegals can conduct their own business and are called law agents, providing services such as settlements, court filings, legal research and other auxiliary legal services; these tasks often have instructions from a solicitor attached.
In the United States, a paralegal is protected from some forms of professional liability under the theory that paralegals are working as an enhancement of an attorney, who takes ultimate responsibility for the supervision of the paralegal’s work and work product. Paralegals often have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes.
Paralegals may analyze and summarize depositions, prepare and answer interrogatories, draft procedural motions and other routine briefs, perform legal research and analysis, draft research memos, and perform case and project management. Paralegals often handle drafting much of the paperwork in probate cases, divorce actions, bankruptcies, and investigations.
Consumers of legal services are typically billed for the time paralegals spend on their cases. In the United States, they are not authorized by the government or other agency to offer legal services (including legal advice) except in Washington State in the same way as lawyers, nor are they officers of the court, nor are they usually subject to government-sanctioned or court-sanctioned rules of conduct.
In some jurisdictions (Ontario, Canada, for example) paralegals are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are and these licensed professionals may be permitted to provide legal services to the public and appear before certain lower courts and administrative tribunals.
How to become A Paralegal
An individual should earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a certificate to gain employment with a law firm, legal department or public defender’s office. In some cases, employers may provide on-the-job training to employees who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field.
Many community colleges and universities provide degree programs in paralegal studies. For those who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, paralegal studies certification programs provide training in legal research, computer software, legal writing and other topics. Many certification programs take a few months to complete. After completing a degree or certificate program, paralegals typically complete a one-year internship with a law firm or government office to gain practical experience.
Those who have little or no paralegal training, but who want to work in a specific area of law, such as business, personal injury or child welfare law, should complete additional coursework in business administration, nursing or psychology. Some employers provide paralegal training to those with technical experience in specific fields.
To advance, paralegals should continue taking courses and earning additional certificates to prove competency. Paralegals may earn promotions that include leading paralegal teams, training new paralegals or working on specialized cases.
The Salary Of A Paralegal
How much does a Paralegal I make in the United States? The average Paralegal I salary in the United States is $56,555 as of October 30, 2019, but the range typically falls between $50,013 and $63,856. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in the industry.