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What It's Like To Be a Paralegal

published July 31, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 259 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
The paralegal profession is quite new. Its formal establishment as a profession can be traced back to the War on Poverty in the 1960s. At that time, individuals were hired by the government to assist lawyers in making legal services available to the poor. Because this was so successful, law firms and corporations soon began to use paralegals to handle routine legal duties previously handled by lawyers.
What It's Like To Be a Paralegal

Being a paralegal is kind of like being a lawyer, for you will perform many of the same tasks. There are things, however, that you can't do, like give legal advice or present cases in court. All your legal work will be done under the direct supervision of lawyers unless you happen to work for a governmental agency where you are given the authority by law to handle certain legal responsibilities. During the workday, much of your time will be spent on a computer as software packages and on-line legal research are increasingly being used to search legal literature.

Let's find out what happens on the job

Paralegals generally do the background work for lawyers. Those who work in small or medium-sized firms perform a variety of duties, while those in large firms, corporations, and government agencies tend to specialize in one aspect of the law.

Litigation paralegals help prepare cases for trial. They may investigate the facts of cases, interview witnesses, conduct legal research, help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, and assist the attorneys during trials.

Besides litigation, paralegals may also work in such areas as bankruptcy, corporate law, criminal law, patent and copyright law, probate, and real estate. They will help draft documents such as contracts, mortgages, and wills; plan estates; and prepare tax returns. Some paralegals coordinate the activities of the other law office employees and keep office financial records.

Corporate paralegals deal with such matters as employee contracts, stock option plans, filing annual financial reports, and drafting employee benefit plans.

Government paralegals generally maintain reference files, collect and analyze evidence for agency hearings, and prepare information on agency policy and regulations.

Legal service paralegals help the poor, the aged, and others in need of legal assistance.

Describe a typical day at work.

You never quite know what to expect. One day may be relatively uneventful and entail working on long-term cases. The very next day, however, may require working through lunch on an important document to meet a filing deadline.

What are some of the tasks that an attorney will ask a paralegal to perform?

The tasks you are assigned depend on your abilities and the complexity of the case. I am frequently assigned these tasks:
  • Interviewing potential clients
  • Summarizing depositions
  • Researching documents at the Federal Courthouse
  • Organizing documents
  • Preparing discovery documents
  • Conducting legal research
  • Preparing for trial
  • Assisting with trial procedures
  • Obtaining expert witnesses
If an attorney feels comfortable with a paralegal's abilities, you may be assigned some task typically reserved for attorneys.

Did you need any special schooling?

After I completed college, I enrolled in the ABA Certified Paralegal Program at UC Irvine. After 18 months of instruction, I completed the program and became a certified paralegal. While a paralegal certificate is not required for all positions within the field, it is certainly helpful.

I had been working in the legal department for a very large company when I began looking for employment within smaller law firms. I felt that I could gain much more experience working for a small law firm than within a large corporation. A friend informed me that a small law firm in downtown Los Angeles had advertised seeking an experienced paralegal. My friend had additionally provided me with the firm's telephone number and related information, but had neglected to mention that the ad had specifically prohibited phone inquiries. Without knowing this, I called the firm's office and asked to speak to someone about the position.

Shortly after faxing my resume, I had arranged a personal interview. After two interviews, I was offered and accepted the position. It was not until after I was hired that I found out that I was the only person who had called for the position because the advertisement had specifically said "no phone calls." I was informed that the firm had figured that I was either very aggressive or did not know how to follow directions. Luckily, the firm had assumed the former.

After receiving a law degree from Harvard, Ralph Nader began his fight against business and government practices that endangered public health and safety. In 1965, his best-selling book, Unsafe at Any Speed, was published. It emphasized that American automakers stressed profit and style over safety and led to Congressional legislation establishing safety standards for new cars. After this success, Nader studied the meat and poultry industries, coal mines, natural gas pipelines, baby food, insecticides, pension reform, and many other consumer issues. Nader's staff of lawyers, researchers, and lobbyists became known as "Nader's Raiders." Nader has been and continues to be a major force in the creation of health and safety regulations and consumer protection laws in America.

In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to ever be nominated for the office of vice president of the United States by a major political party when Democrat Walter Mondale picked her as his running mate. It wasn't easy for Ferraro to climb the ladder to national prominence. Her parents were immigrants and she had to teach school while attending law school at night. She started her law career in private practice, was appointed a U.S. district attorney, and was elected to Congress.

You and a career as a paralegal

Before deciding on a career as a paralegal, you need to understand exactly what your responsibilities will be in this profession:
  1. Paralegals must be able to handle legal problems logically and to communicate their findings, both orally and in writing, to their supervising lawyers.
  2. Paralegals must understand legal terminology and have good research and investigative skills.
  3. Paralegals must be familiar with the operation and applications of the computer in legal research and litigation.
  4. Paralegals must always know about new developments in the law that affect their area of practice.
  5. Paralegals must uphold the high ethical standards of the legal profession.
If you are interested in a career related to law and believe that you can handle the responsibilities of this profession, being a paralegal may be the right career for you.

Find out more about becoming a paralegal

You can get information on a career as a paralegal, from schools that offer training programs, the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, and local paralegal associations from:

National Federation of Paralegal Associations P.O. Box 33108 Kansas City, MO 64114

Information on paralegal training programs, including the pamphlet "How to Choose a Paralegal Education Program," may be obtained from:

American Association for Paralegal Education P.O. Box 40244 Overland Park, KS 66204

published July 31, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 259 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.