A lot goes into the practice of law. While licensed attorneys are the professionals who handle this practice, they need skilled personnel to support their efforts. Paralegals, or a type of paraprofessional working in the legal industry, fill this important role. If you’re contemplating a career as a paralegal, you will occupy an important position in the legal industry, working alongside and under the supervision of attorneys to get the best outcomes for their clients – whether that client is the plaintiff or the defendant, whether the case is a criminal matter or a civil one. The paralegal occupation has many perks, including a highly positive job outlook.
A Career Supporting Attorneys
An attorney’s primary job is to represent the interests of clients or, if employed by the government, the state, municipality or federal criminal justice system. Within that responsibility are countless other job duties. Although most people envision lawyers presenting arguments in the courtroom, much more work happens behind the scenes.
The specific details of legal matters must be investigated thoroughly. Legal arguments must be based on all of the relevant laws and on the “case law,” or the body of legal decisions in relevant cases that set a precedent for another legal matter. There are legal documents to be drafted, paperwork to be filed with the courts and other legal proceedings outside of trials – such as depositions, mediations and arbitrations – that the attorney must prepare for.
Paralegals are attorneys’ assistants. Although they aren’t themselves qualified to practice law – and they won’t take the starring role in a client’s real-life courtroom drama – they are trained to assist with many of these behind-the-scenes tasks. Different attorneys may have different expectations for what falls under a paralegal’s purview, but it’s not unusual for paralegals to have some responsibilities in conducting legal investigations and research and writing certain legal documents, under the guidance of a licensed lawyer. Attorneys can delegate certain tasks that constitute “substantive legal work” to paralegals, according to the American Bar Association.
Paralegals may also have to step into administrative support roles, contacting clients, scheduling meetings and legal proceedings and keeping case files organized.
A Crucial Role in the Legal Industry
Paralegals hold an important place in the legal services industry. Their contributions make legal services more efficient and more widely available while helping to keep down costs, the American Bar Association reported. For attorneys, the work of a reliable paralegal is invaluable, making legal matters progress more smoothly at every stage of the legal process.
The majority – 73 percent – of the 325,700 paralegals working across America are employed directly in the legal services industry, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of these jobs exist in private law firms, the American Bar Association reported, but paralegals also work in other areas of the legal services industry, including corporate legal departments. Other top-employing industries include local governments, the federal government, state government and the finance and insurance industry.
The legal industry employs a greater share of paralegals than of attorneys, the BLS reported. Just 48 percent of lawyers work in this industry. Another 20 percent are self-employed in their own law firms, and governments round out the list of the top employers.
The Benefits of Being a Paralegal
Work as a paralegal is challenging and interesting. If you aspire to work in the legal industry but don’t want to invest considerable time and money into going to law school, becoming a paralegal can help you reach your career goals quickly and with minimal expense. Some attorneys work as paralegals before or during law school – or in between graduating with their Juris Doctor degree and passing the Bar Examination – to gain real-world law firm experience.
One of the biggest benefits of working as a paralegal in today’s economy is the high demand for workers. The BLS expects jobs for paralegals to increase by 12 percent, or 39,000 new jobs, over just a decade. The average job growth rate over that same time period is just 5 percent, and even lawyers and other legal occupations are expected to grow by only 6 percent to 7 percent. Job candidates who are proficient in the use of computers, especially database management responsibilities, will be in particularly high demand, the BLS reported.
Paralegals have considerable earning potential. Although the median salary is $50,940, those working for the federal government or in the finance and insurance industry see higher rates of pay, at $67,340 and $62,020, respectively, the BLS reported.