The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as “a person qualified by education, training or work experience 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”. Paralegal studies will prepare you to perform many legal tasks in firms or agencies.
Because there are so many areas within the law field, there are just as many areas for paralegals to find employment. Engaging in paralegal studies has advantages that can help you get into the law field.
You may choose to apply for the LSAT with intentions of attending Law School. You may also want to work for legal firms or private attorneys. Or, you may want to seek employment in non-law agencies that require the services of a paralegal or legal assistant. Paralegal studies will also help prepare you for the LSAT.
Passing the LSAT exam to be admitted into law school is still necessary, although many states are considering changing this requirement. Studying for and becoming a paralegal is like on the job training and preparation for the exam. You not only learn what you need in the classroom, but you also see your studies implemented into real world law situations.
You will also need good letters of recommendation. Working with attorneys as a paralegal can help you obtain those solid reference letters that may set you apart from other applicants who are seeking to enter law school.
In some cases, law firms offer their paralegals tuition reimbursement. Meaning, they will help you pay for law school if you dedicate a certain number of years of employment to them once you finish. Because law school can be expensive, an opportunity like this is a huge advantage. Even having exam fees paid for by an employer can be helpful.
Working as a paralegal can prepare you for the demands of the college class requirements. You will already know how to research factual and non-factual information, you will be able to prepare for mock trials, and you will be able to report your findings professionally, as you have seen your employer do in many situations.
You will already know how to use the Law Library, which is totally different from a regular library. Knowing how to research in this environment before law school will give you a great head start.
The knowledge you have gained from assisting an attorney, will benefit you in applying for and succeeding in law school.
Attorneys are busy preparing for trial. They spend many hours working on legal cases. Using a paralegal as an assistant provides attorneys with much needed help.
Paralegals can conduct research needed for a case. They can complete semi-legal tasks that require the services of an attorney but can be done by a paralegal. Some of these tasks include coordinating property tax appeals, investigate facts of a case, interview people involved with a case, proofread documents and ensure filing deadlines are met.
Rather than hiring more lawyers to complete these jobs, it is more cost-effective to hire paralegals who can do the exact same work as an attorney.
As a paralegal, you can do more than assist an attorney. You can also work in a legal office staff member position.
Legal Office Staff
As a paralegal, the office duties you can perform are wide. One day you may be researching and collecting data for a case, while the next day you may have to draft legal documents. You may spend most of one day answering calls and interviewing potential clients. The next day may be spent researching police records or preparing travel arrangements for your employer.
Studying and receiving a certificate in paralegal studies shows an attorney you will be able to handle all the needs of his or her office.
Working for an attorney is not the only working environment in which paralegals are valuable.
Non-Law Firm Agencies
Paralegals are needed in many organizations, not just law firms. Many private businesses and corporations seek the skills of paralegals. A corporate paralegal will assist the law team hired by the company. Paralegals in this field can expect to prepare documents and contracts.
They may also work to change the legal status of companies, from incorporated to limited liability companies and partnerships. Knowing each state’s incorporation rules is a must. Paralegal studies will prepare you for this.
Paralegals are also needed in the insurance business. They use their skills as a claims paralegal or in defense in claims cases.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 percent of paralegals are employed in local, state and federal government agencies. These may include the Social Security Administration, Courts, Department of Justice, and the Military.
Choosing the Right Paralegal Studies Program
Not all paralegal studies programs are the same. Some offer better courses that can potentially offer higher marketability when you enter the law field. Meaning, having certain knowledge can give your resume an edge over your competition.
Paralegal studies courses that can help you stand out to potential employers include learning legal terminology for the area of law you are applying. If you are seeking a job in corporate law, it is important you know the legal terms associated with corporations. If you are in criminal law, knowing related terminology is key.
Courses you want to take include learning interviewing techniques and skills. You will need to be taught how to research law data, both in a law library and using specialized computer systems.
Other courses should focus on identifying, analyzing and completing legal documents. One of the most important areas of study should focus on the ethics of working in the law fields.
An ethics course will teach you how to react professionally in many situations that are known to happen in the legal environment.You also learn about the importance of confidentiality between law workers and client.
Having the benefit of the knowledge you learn in classes and going on to receive your paralegal degree or certificate, will give you an advantage when entering the law field.