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What Is a Paralegal and What Do Paralegals Do?

published December 15, 2016

By Author - LawCrossing
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Summary: This article explains what paralegals are and what they do (as well as what they don’t do), the training to become one, and the fields in which they might specialize.
What Is a Paralegal and What Do Paralegals Do?

Programs have defined the role of the legal assistant as well as the parameters of the profession.
A paralegal, also known as a legal assistant, is not a lawyer but is a person who assists a lawyer in his or her professional duties. The use of paralegal services is relatively new, scarcely more than thirty years old. Like most other products and services, it developed out of a need, specifically in the 1960s when rising legal costs denied many low- and middle-income individuals access to essential legal services. That is when consumer groups, members of the organized bar, and the federal government took notice. Legal clinics were started, and the delivery of legal services was reevaluated with one goal in mind: How could these services be provided in a cost-efficient manner without compromising the quality of services rendered, let alone the integrity of the profession?
In addition to the adoption of more efficient management of legal services, the legal assistant was introduced. The role of the legal assistant has expanded over the years; training and education have become essential for paralegals to perform most productively in assisting lawyers.
The Definition of a Paralegal
A legal assistant is a person, qualified through education, training, or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such an assistant, the attorney would perform the task.
This definition underscores the importance of some essential characteristics of the paralegal. First of all, it clearly explains that the paralegal does not or cannot in any way perform legal services; that is the role and responsibility of the attorney. In other words, a paralegal is a professional who provides legal services to the client under the supervision of an attorney. In order for the paralegal to assist the attorney or agency most effectively, education and training become essential qualifications, enabling the paralegal to find the best job and move ahead in the profession. And while there is currently no licensing qualification or required certification for becoming a paralegal, in a competitive job market, such credentials will assuredly enhance a person’s ability to get the position.
The issue of the regulation of paralegals is a topic of continuing discussion as the profession continues to grow and the responsibilities of the paralegal expand. Let’s examine what such regulation would imply. First of all, there is a distinction between certification and licensure. Certification implies the voluntary compliance by individuals in meeting certain specifications drawn up by an agency or organization that will confer a certain designation or recognition. For example, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) Certified Legal Assistant program provides a type of certification. Licensing, on the other hand, is a mandatory credential that an individual must obtain before practicing in certain professions. Attorneys are licensed to practice in specific states; there is no such requirement for paralegals. Many states, including California and Illinois, are, however, considering such a requirement and are studying proposed legislation. After conducting two studies and reviewing the findings, the California State. Bar Association has recommended limited licensure. Other valuable studies on this topic include the following: the Cleveland Association of Paralegals Ad Hoc Committee on Limited Licensure (1989); Survey on Non- Traditional Paralegal Responsibilities (1989); and Report of the Standing Committed on the Delivery of Paralegal Services (1990). These studies are available through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). It is important to note that the NFPA also adopted a resolution endorsing limited licensure in 1991.
On the other hand, since 1975, the ABA has considered and reconsidered such requirements but has continued to reject such proposals with the conclusion that they are not “proper mechanisms” applicable to legal assistants.
Renewed interest in limited licensure for paralegals has been sparked with the growth of independent paralegals. In an effort to provide routine legal services directly to the public, it has been proposed that paralegals be granted permission by the state to provide services, such as real estate closings, drafting of simple wills, and selected tax services that lawyers regularly perform. One of the issues accompanying limited licensure would be strict insistence on the quality of services rendered. In other words, it would be crucial that practicing paralegals have comprehensive training, testing, and supervision.
Many paralegals already perform such duties under the supervision of attorneys. They have the education and training. Limited licensure would grant them permission to perform these tasks in direct contact with the client. Understandably, there has been resistance. Many support the concept; others believe that it will infringe upon the lawyer’s territory or that the appropriate level of regulation would be difficult to define. Guidelines would have to be established for all levels of educational requirements and examinations, with built-in guarantees for monitoring quality as well as established limits of paralegal practice.
The topic is of sufficient interest that a number of states are considering it seriously. Those who favor licensure of paralegals argue that it would in-crease legal service costs; would not serve the public any better, since attorneys are already accountable to their clients; and would place unnecessary standardization restrictions on paralegal programs. On the other hand, licensing of paralegals would offer a new level of recognition to the profession and identify it as a legal career in itself. The debate has prompted renewed discussion from organizations and associations and, most positively, has emphasized the importance of education and training for paralegals. Much of this has resulted from the growth and involvement of paralegal associations throughout the country.
Many states have adopted guidelines for the ethical use of paralegals, including Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas. Some have gone so far as to include several critical areas of ethics when paralegals perform legal services directly with clients or the public. The ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistants has established Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Legal Assistant Services. The model is useful for states that wish to adopt guidelines to help attorneys make the most efficient as well as legal use of paralegals.
In addition, paralegal associations have prepared guidelines for their members in the code of ethics they have formulated. Both the NALA and the NFPA Association have focused on the enormous ethical responsibility of paralegals. In 1987, the NALA adopted its first Code of Ethics, with later revisions appearing in 1979, 1988, and 1995. In 1977, the NFPA adopted an Affirmation of Responsibility, with revisions made in 1981. In 1993 this was replaced by the Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. The current NALA and NFPA codes are included in Appendix C.
The impact of these guidelines has helped to establish criteria for behavior among members of the associations, and while the enforcement of the code is the domain of local chapters, the goal is to set up a high level of ethical standards for all legal assistants. Guidelines are periodically updated; as a result, they do serve a role in helping individual attorneys and state bars, as well as paralegals, to understand clearly what is considered to be ethical practice for legal assistants. Paralegal associations have also provided opportunities for professional growth and development and a networking resource. They have become a strong voice in championing the concerns of paralegals and insisting that paralegals be recognized as professionals. One area in which they have been particularly helpful is their emphasis and recommendations on educational qualifications for those entering the field.
Training Programs for Paralegals
In the early years of the profession, few training programs existed, but by 1974, the ABA adopted guidelines for an approved paralegal curriculum. Shortly after, professional paralegal associations began to spring up throughout the country. The NFPA and NALA were established. Paralegal educators soon formed their own association, the American Association for Paralegal Educators. The Legal Assistant Management Association was started by a group of paralegal supervisors and managers in 1980. A list of paralegal associations, with current addresses, are included in Appendix A of this book.
All of these organizations make a contribution to the profession; they enable professional standards to be set down and followed. As an example, in 1976, the NALA established the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) program, a voluntary certification program consisting of two days of examinations on a variety of topics, including ethics, human relations, legal research and analysis, and four major areas of law. Certification by this program is considered a strong qualification for getting a job in many states.
What Paralegals Can and Cannot Do
Throughout the country, programs for paralegals provide intensive background and training for those preparing to assist attorneys in a wide range of activities. The scope of these activities perhaps best explains what a paralegal is. And as the profession continues to grow, so does the complexity of the tasks they perform. Many paralegals are involved in almost every aspect of a lawyer’s work.
The legitimate issue, therefore, is to understand what paralegals cannot do. They cannot give legal advice, represent lawyers in court, or speak for a client. In other words, they cannot function outside the supervision of a lawyer. Later on in this article a brief discussion is included on proposals that would permit paralegals to offer direct services to the client. So far this has not been approved, but it is currently under serious discussion. To avoid any illegalities, particularly when freelancing, paralegals should be aware of current legislation governing paralegal practice.
So what do paralegals do? Among a multitude of tasks and responsibilities, paralegals may do legal research, draft briefs, interview witnesses, assist at trials, file legal documents, handle real estate closings, and label documents. They may be called on, particularly in entry-level jobs, to photocopy documents, but routine clerical work is rarely the main part of their job. Legal secretaries usually perform that function along with their other office duties, particularly in a large organization. If the organization is small, the paralegal’s role may differ. So, in general, the paralegal has varied responsibilities. The range of work is usually wide, depending upon the position, the setting, and the job that needs to be done. It can be exciting or it can be tedious, but is always important.
That is why paralegals are so much in demand. The work they do is essential to a lawyer. It is the time-consuming detail work that would frequently be too costly for a lawyer to perform; yet, without an efficient, reliable assistant, lawyers often cannot do their jobs. The best argument for hiring paralegals, therefore, is cost effectiveness. Legal cases are frequently so complex that it is impossible for one attorney to be a specialist in every area. Most large law firms are broken down into specialty departments such as real estate, litigation, or corporate finance. If an attorney chooses one specialty, it stands to reason that he or she will need a paralegal who is knowledgeable about that specialty.
Today, it is not unusual for a large law firm to have over one hundred lawyers on its staff, and many firms have branch offices all over the world. With expanded services and the growth of increasingly complex legal regulations, these firms continue to demand skilled paralegals. Some organizations are even moving toward a tier system for paralegals, whereby they can move up the career ladder by assuming new tasks and responsibilities.
Good performance is rewarded by advancement. For example, an Entry- Level Paralegal may become an Intermediate-Level Paralegal, and then a Senior-Level Paralegal and, depending upon the size and specialties within a firm, may advance to Case Manager (which is sometimes the same as Senior-Level Paralegal), Specialty (Corporate, Real Estate, Litigation) Support Manager, Paralegal Manager, and Paralegal Administrator. This system would vary, of course, depending upon the organization as well as the specialty. Qualifications for advancement are based on organizational standards as well as experience, skill level, education, training, and performance. A higher rank means higher pay as well as greater recognition and responsibility.
Of course, not all paralegals will choose to work in a large, often fast- paced legal environment. Many will prefer the setting of a smaller legal office or a social service agency. The person with generalist training is prepared to handle a variety of tasks, and that may be more appealing. Once a paralegal begins to explore the various specialties within the field, opportunities as well as specific interests may become more apparent.
Below is a listing of paralegal specialties, and the basic tasks they require. These will vary, of course, depending upon the organization, agency, or setting.
Areas of Specialization for Paralegals
The following listing of paralegal specialties reflects the growing trend to-ward specialization. Many paralegals develop specialties in several areas because of the overlapping of duties and responsibilities in those areas. Within each category, a brief description of the major paralegal duties is included. Duties and responsibilities may vary with the position. For more information and details, consult a firm, organization, or agency that handles the specialty that interests you. In all areas, of course, the paralegal works with or for an attorney.
Administrative Law
Government positions that handle citizen queries and complaints and draft proposed regulations and statutes for agencies. Positions are also available with law firms that represent citizens before particular agencies, including the United States Patent Office, Department of Health and Human Services, and others.
Paralegal duties include investigation, research, advocacy at agency hearings, drafting pleadings for litigation, attending hearings, and preparing re-ports, exhibits, or witnesses.
Admiralty Law
Law covering accidents, injuries, and deaths connected with vessels on navigable waters. Paralegal duties include investigation, research, and litigation assistance.
Antitrust Law
Paralegal work includes aspects of document control (pleadings, deposition testimony, interrogatories, and exhibits); indexing documents, drafting pleadings, investigation (statistical data and corporate structures); legal research on monopolies, marked allocation, or the Federal Trade Commission.
Banking Law and Lender Liability
Paralegal assists legal staff in such tasks as assessing bank liability for negligence claims, collection abuse, and other claims. Assists attorneys in litigating claims, monitors activities of various banking regulatory agencies, drafts and reviews loan applications and credit documents. May also analyze documents (mortgages or security agreements), arrange closings, prepare notarization of documents, monitor recordation, and conduct Uniform Commercial Code searches.
Bankruptcy Law
Paralegal interviews clients on matters of bankruptcy; reviews questionnaires on assets and liabilities. Investigates indebtedness, verifies tax liabilities, identifies creditor claims. Arranges for asset valuation, prepares inventories of assets and liabilities, opens bankruptcy petitions, and answers creditor inquiries.
Change of Name Law
Paralegal researches, gathers records, and drafts applications, files applications and pleadings in court on behalf of individuals and organizations requesting name change.
Law of Children
Paralegal works with attorney in all aspects of investigation, preliminary draftings, client counseling, legal research, and litigation assistance in cases involving adoption, child abuse, custody, paternity, and juvenile delinquency. See also Domestic Relations Law.
Civil Rights Law
Paralegal assists in litigation brought by citizens or law firms representing citizens in discrimination complaints, including complaints based on sex, race, religion or age.
Commercial Law Collections
Paralegal investigates claims, conducts asset checks, and verifies information. Litigation assistant in Civil Court and Small Claims Court.
Communication Law
Government paralegal assists attorneys in Federal Communications Com-mission work of regulating the communications industry. Assists in litigation and representation of citizens or companies in drafting applications for licenses; prepares compliance reports, exemption applications, and statistical analyses.
Construction Claims Law
Paralegal works with engineering consultant claims, including data collection, graph preparation, document preparation, and arranging for arbitration of claims.
Consumer Law
Specialty includes all aspects of consumer problems and public or private concerns that affect them: utility shutoffs, garnished wages, default judgments, lost credit cards, automobile insurance suspension, merchandise complaints, defective goods, unsatisfactory repair work, insurance claims, and so forth. Paralegals investigate, draft forms and reports, counsel clients, and assist in litigation. They also help citizens in case preparations before Small Claims Court, train other paralegals to handle consumer cases, educate community groups on consumer laws, and draft consumer-education reports.
Contract Law
All aspects of law of contract law are included in this specialty, such as antitrust law, banking law, bankruptcy law, construction law, corporate law, copyright law, domestic relations law, employee benefits law, employment law, government contract law, insurance law, international law, landlord- tenant law, oil and gas law, partnership law, real estate law, and tax law. Paralegal duties include investigation of alleged breach of contract, legal research on law of specific contracts, litigation assistance in trial of breach of contract case, and preparation of form contracts.
Copyright Law
Paralegals assist clients in copyright registration, collect data for application, file applications, prepare contracts, investigate any existing infringements, and assist in general litigation. Patent law and trademark law are related specialties.
Corporate Law
Specialty includes incorporation and corporate work, such as drafting preincorporation subscriptions, recording Articles of Incorporation, preparing documents, attending directors’ meetings and drafting minutes, drafting sections of annual reports, preparing general documents, doing legal research for documents on pending legislation, preparing case profiles, monitoring law journals or newspapers, maintaining a corporate forms file, and assisting in processing patent, copyright, and trademark applications.
Criminal Law
Paralegal works for prosecutors on case reviews, police liaison, citizen complaints, consumer fraud, nonsupport and Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, and bad checks restitution. Serves as calendaring Aide to Calendar Court and witness liaison and helps in trial preparation. Paralegal works for defense attorneys on arranging for bail, determining of eligibility, diversion, initial client review, planning community services for clients, liaison with detained defendants, fieldwork assistance, trial preparations, plea negotiations, and appeals and collateral attacks.
Domestic Relations Law
Paralegal works with attorney in problem identification and resolution in domestic issues (divorce, law of children, and so forth.) Conducts preliminary interviews, consults with lawyers, drafts complaints, summons, judgments, and separation agreements, acts as general litigation assistant, and trains other staff.
Education Law
This field includes issues concerning school board procedures or citizen advocacy. Paralegal conducts preliminary interviews with parent or child, identifies nonlegal problems for referral to other agencies, serves as informal advocate, appears at school board meetings, and before legislative committees, attends formal hearings representing child counsel clients, and assists in litigation.
Employee Benefits Law (Qualified Plans)
Paralegals work closely with attorney, plan sponsor, administrator, and trustee in preparation and drafting of qualified employee plans. Prepares accompanying documents and monitors program, handles government compliance work, prepares and reviews annual reports of plan.
Employment Law
Paralegal identifies and investigates problems concerning individual com-plaints based on discrimination, demotion (or failure to promote) due to discrimination, and alleged nonpayment of salary. Prepares documents for hearing and serves as an informal advocate and negotiations mediator. Related to Labor Law and Civil Rights Law.
Entertainment Law
Paralegal works with different media, including television, film, radio, and print media (newspaper, book, and magazine publishers). Such work would also include contact with writers, directors, producers, and entertainers in all fields on legal issues affecting royalties, financing, and intellectual property cases.
Environmental Law
This area includes environmental protection and violation cases in all areas, including pollution (violation of pollution laws, and smoke-free environments), waste management by manufacturers, corporations, and any organization violating laws established by the Organization for Safety and Health Administration.
Family Law (Children‘s Rights)
Duties may include research, deposition, client interview with family members, medical personnel, legal research, and drafting documents.
Federal Government Specialties
While titles for specialties may vary within government agencies, the following indicate the primary function of the paralegal:
Civil Rights Analyst, Employee Relations Specialist, Environmental Protection Specialist, Foreign Law Specialist, Foreign Service Diplomatic Security Officer, Freedom of Information Act Specialist, Labor Management Relations Examiner, Mediator, Security Specialist.
Franchising Specialist
This specialty includes an understanding of franchise registration, trade-mark, and contract law.
Government Contract Law
Paralegal maintains calendar for Courts and Appeals Board, prepares claims and documents for appearances and posthearing briefs in matters concerning government contracts.
Health Law
Paralegal consults with attorney in problem identification and resolution in all aspects of legal health issues. Investigates medical records, visits sites to explore public health issues, may serve as interpreter of foreign language between medical staff and patient (explaining hospital procedures), addresses community groups on health law issues, serves as informal advocate, and assists in negotiation mediation. Appears before legislative committees or health administrative bodies to express views on healthcare issues.
Immigration Law
Paralegal identifies immigration problems, including difficulties in obtaining visa, permanent residency difficulties, non immigrant status, citizenship status, deportation proceedings. Provides information on visa process, residency, registration process citizenship process, and deportation process. Assists individuals in obtaining documents, refers individuals to foreign consulates or nationality organizations for assistance. Helps individuals in completing all required forms.
Insurance Law
Paralegal duties involve legal research, processing disputed benefit claims, assisting in litigation on claims brought to court, monitoring activities of insurance regulatory agencies and committees of the legislature with jurisdiction over insurance. Related to Employee Benefits Law.
Intellectual Property Law
This area concerns legal aspects of creative works and ideas, including manuscripts, fiction and nonfiction books, proposals, and artistic creations. Patents and copyrights are handled.
International Law
Paralegal researches, prepares, and coordinates documents and data regarding international trade, for presentation to the Commerce Department, Court of International Trade, or other governmental bodies.
Labor Law
Paralegal investigates and examines documents, assists in litigation in labor disputes before the United States Labor Relations Board, state labor relations board, and the courts. Drafts documents, arranges for depositions, and prepares statistical data, appeals, and exhibits. Relates to Employee Benefits Law, Unemployment Compensation Law, and Worker’s Compensation Law.
Landlord-Tenant Law
This field includes issues relating to public and private housing. Paralegal files application for procedures, conducts preliminary interviews, drafts orders or letters requesting hearings, and serves pleadings on landlords.
Law Office Administration
Paralegal manages or supervises all aspects of personnel and office procedures. Evaluates performances, oversees accounting functions, establishes procedures for billing verification, supervises law library, establishes and maintains filing system, administers insurance programs for firm, prepares long-range budget projections, and prepares reports of individual attorneys and departments within the firm.
Legal Clinic Specialist
Paralegal performs all responsibilities and duties required in a self-help clinic, including speaking with clients, helping them to complete forms, directing questions to appropriate authorities, and, in general, providing information or assisting attorneys in any way deemed necessary.
Legislation Specialist
Paralegal monitors all events, persons, and organizations involved in passing of legislation relevant to client of firm. Drafts proposed legislation, prepares reports and studies on the subject of proposed legislation.
Litigation Specialist
Paralegal investigates, performs document research, discovery, files and serves; assists in trial preparation, and client preparation, including arranging client interviews, interviewing expert witnesses, and supervising document encodation. Assists in preparation of trial briefs, appeal documents, and other legal research.
Lobbying Specialist
Paralegal works with lobbying attorneys in research of legislative and regulatory history, monitors proposed regulations of administrative agencies and the legislature.
Medical Malpractice Law
Area requires an understanding of medical law and procedure and what constitutes malpractice. Paralegals may interview, do research, assist in preparing depositions, and speak with clients.
Mergers and Acquisitions Law
Paralegals with interest and training in corporate law may find this an appropriate specialty. Activities include research on areas such as corporate law and real estate law.
Military Law
Paralegal assists in document preparation for military proceedings, claims against the government, court reporting, and maintenance of all records.
Motor Vehicle Law
Issues concerning license suspension or revocation are the focus of this law. Paralegal assists clients in gathering records, serves as informal advocate for client with Department of Motor Vehicles and assists client in preparation of case before hearing officer in suspension or revocation of license cases.
Municipal Bonds Law
Paralegals work with attorneys specializing in banking, investment law, and regulations governing acquisition or disposition.
Oil and Gas Law
Paralegal collects and analyzes data pertaining to land ownership and activities affecting procurement of rights to explore or drill for and produce oil or gas. Helps to acquire leases and monitors execution of leases and other agreements; helps to negotiate agreements, processes and monitors termination of leases and agreements, and examines land titles. See also Real Estate Law.
In states where judges in certain lower courts are not required to be attorneys (local magistrate courts, Justice of the Peace courts), paralegals may have limited roles in conducting designated pretrial proceedings and making recommendations to regular court.
Partnership Law
Paralegal drafts preorganization agreement and records minutes of meetings and agreements for dissolution of partnership. Drafts and publishes notice of termination of partnership, drafts noncompetitive agreements for selling partners, and drafts assignment of partnership interests.
Patent Law
Paralegal helps inventor apply for a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, conducts patent search, monitors responses from government offices, helps market invention by identifying licenses, studies market, prepares contracts, and investigates patent infringements.
Personal Injury Law
Paralegal handles all aspects of personal injury claims, including interviewing witnesses, researching cases for factual verification, and preparing interrogatories and estimates.
Postconviction and Corrections Law
Paralegal works with inmate who wishes to appeal conviction and helps to identify problems. Helps with all aspects of appeal, including writing administrative complaints and gathering relevant records.
Products Liability Law
Area involves government regulations, factual investigation, manufacturing, toxic tort litigation, technical knowledge, federal legislation. If interested in this specialty, see also Environmental Law.
Public Interest Law
All aspects of law concerning welfare of public at large, including health and environment and safety regulations, including manufacture of safe products.
Real Estate Law
Paralegal assists law firms, corporations and development companies in transactions involving land, houses, office buildings, condominiums, shopping malls, and so forth, with research on zoning regulations, title work, mortgage closings, checking compliance on all disclosure settlements, foreclosures, office management, and tax-exempt industrial development financing.
Sports Law
A relatively new field with few positions. Area includes all aspects of sports law, including safety regulations, sports injury, and contract issues with owners, managers, and players.
Tax Law
Paralegal compiles all data for preparation of tax returns (including corporate income, employer income, employer quarterly returns, franchises, partnerships, sales, personal property, individual income, estate, gift taxes): drafts extensions, maintains tax law library, and compiles supporting documents for returns.
Tort Law
Paralegal mainly provides litigation assistance in civil wrong that has injured someone, such as negligence, trespassing, defamation, strict liability, wrongful death, and, frequently, worker’s compensation for on-the-job injuries.
Trademark Law
Paralegal researches documents, investigates, prepares foreign trademark applications, maintains files, responds to official government actions, and investigates trademark infringement. See also Copyright Law.
Transportation Law
All areas included in transporting of individuals delivery of products, carriers, and state and federal jurisdictions. Assignments may include such areas as violation of weight, product, or carrier transportation laws.
Travel Law
Work in areas of contracts between operators and suppliers, class action suits with transportation companies and travel agencies, and jurisdictions over travel suppliers.
Tribal Law
Paralegal assists in civil and criminal cases in which both parties are Native Americans. Drafts and files complaints, and presents written and oral appeals in tribal court of appeals.
Trusts, Estates, and Probate Law
Paralegal collects data, handles preliminary drafting of wills or trusts and investment analysis in estate planning. Manages office, assists in administering estate of decedent (including asset phase, accounting phase, and termination-distribution phase). Assists in general litigation, including preparing sample pleadings, doing legal research, preparing drafts of interrogatories, and notarizing documents.
Unemployment Insurance (Compensation) Law
Paralegal meets with clients, investigates and solicits affidavits from employers, handles time determinations, serves as informal advocate with both parties, represents clients before Unemployment Insurance hearing examiner. Counsels clients, presents petitions before legislative and administrative hearings, and addresses community groups.
Welfare Law
Paralegal holds preliminary interviews to explain welfare issues, meets with welfare departments, investigates and verifies information, and con-ducts hearings and follows up with hearing attorney. Assists attorney in gathering documents for appeal, files papers in court, and serves papers. Trains other paralegals and speaks to community organizations.
Worker’s Compensation Law
Paralegal interviews claimants, collects data, drafts claims, requests hearings, and serves as a formal or informal advocate. Follows up to determine whether payment is in compliance with awards, monitors claims, and files statutory demand for proper payment, if necessary.
Training for a Specialty
Whatever setting or specialty appeals to you, remember that you will develop many of your skills on the job. To qualify for the job or area you wish to enter, experience and training will vary, depending upon the competition in the current job market, and the specific position. Basically, however, a thorough, intensive paralegal training program, including computer skills, is excellent preparation for an entry-level position in any area. Check the qualifications required for the specialty (for example, language requirements for an immigration specialist). Learning on the job may otherwise provide the additional training essential for any given position.
The personal characteristics that are requisite for any position are equally important. In addition to those qualities which are the earmarks of a successful candidate for any job in any field—reliability, commitment, diligence, etc.—the successful paralegal will have the competitive edge if he or she has strongly developed oral and written communication skills and can relate well to other people. Working with clients, handling research, and getting along with a wide variety of personality types, frequently under stressful conditions such as stringent deadlines or a heavy load of multiple tasks, demands qualities that cannot be learned in a classroom. They are the characteristics lawyers look for when selecting the best para-legal for the position. The ability to put things into perspective, keep a sense of humor, and maintain a balanced outlook on life are all characteristics of a mature person who has the determination to get the job done but can also be counted on to work under demanding conditions.
Other skills that have been developed in other jobs, whatever the field, can enhance a paralegal’s opportunity to get a position and to perform effectively on the job. Think of the knowledge and expertise you have gained through your college education, if you have a degree or have attended college. Critical thinking skills can be developed in any academic course or any environment. A major or minor in any field may be the source of valuable, relevant skills that could make you an asset. If you do not have a college education, you may have developed other work skills, including business skills, organizational skills, computer skills, and foreign language skills; all these and more may prove to be an asset to a firm or particular attorney. Every position presents an opportunity for someone to develop specific skills as well as accomplishments.
Personal traits as well as professional skills are extremely important. Communicating effectively, getting along with others, setting priorities, managing time, solving problems, handling change, taking criticism, and working well without supervision are among the many attributes that will impress a potential employer. If you do not possess them, find ways to develop them in any current educational, volunteer or work setting.
Of course, it is a given that you have the professional qualifications for the job. Many are not fully aware, however, of the range of those qualifications. You will soon discover those skills, interests, and talents you have developed (if you do not already recognize them) along with your achievements. Once you discover your assets, you must learn how to convey them to a potential employer.
Preliminary Self-Assessment
Self-assessment or self-inventory is an essential part of the job search. You must begin there so that you can focus on those skills in a resume. In order to do that, you need to take time to look at yourself and see where you have been and where you want to go as a paralegal.
All of this preparation will help you to prepare for the final stage: interviewing for the job. When a potential employer asks you to “tell me something about yourself,” you will be prepared to answer, because by that time, you will have thought about it very carefully.
You will also be able to understand what there is about you that will make you a good paralegal. By understanding how you are personally prepared to do that job, you are getting ready to face your job campaign with all the tools and information you need.
So let’s start at the beginning of the process: with you.
In order for you to determine if this field is the right match for you, how carefully have you analyzed the profession as it relates to your own skills and interests? It would be helpful, therefore, if you posed some very pertinent questions to yourself:
  • What specific skills do you think paralegals need to possess?
  • Have you ever spoken with a paralegal? If so, what were your impressions about this profession?
  • What do you find to be the most appealing aspect of the profession?
  • What are your salary expectations in this field?
  • What interests you about this type of work?
  • Where can you see yourself going in this profession? In five years?
  • What are your greatest concerns or misgivings about entering the profession?
  • Do you see any obstacles? If so, how would you overcome them?

Preliminary Self-Assessment Exercise
Write a brief statement about why you want to become a paralegal and why you think you are qualified.
Remember: This is a preliminary exercise. Nevertheless, you will be starting to think of yourself as a professional, in very specific ways. Later on, after you have completed the self-assessment of your skills, you will be asked to do another version of this exercise. You may wish to periodically return to this page to see how much you have learned about yourself as you continue your journey.

published December 15, 2016

By Author - LawCrossing
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