Paralegals are an important part of the legal system. If you’ve ever visited a law office, it’s likely you’ve encountered one.
But what is a paralegal? And more importantly, if you’re considering becoming a paralegal, what does a paralegal do?
What is a Paralegal?
The American Bar Association defines paralegal as someone who is qualified by education, training, or work experience and who is retained by a lawyer or law office to perform specifically delegated legal work for which the lawyer is responsible.
What this means is that the paralegal can help a lawyer, without practicing law themselves.
What Does a Paralegal’s Day Look Like?
But what does a paralegal actually do? On a day-to-day basis, a paralegal’s duties vary depending on the nature of the work being done by the lawyer for whom they work. An important part of a paralegal’s job is taking on some of the lawyer’s workload, so that he or she may focus on more detailed work.
Often this involves legal research, document preparation, and developing legal documentation. A paralegal is not allowed to engage in the attorney-client relationship, provide legal advice, or perform certain other functions reserved for licensed attorneys. A paralegal can, however, help prepare exhibits for court, perform administrative tasks related to case management, and write documents that will be filed with the court.
What a paralegal does during the day also depends on what kind of practice they work for. A family lawyer, for example, may have a paralegal that drafts contracts for divorce or prepares files for a custody hearing. A paralegal for a lawyer specializing in trusts and estates may assist in setting up estate trusts or other aspects of estate planning.
Ultimately, though, it’s the paralegal’s job to help coordinate and organize the law office and generally making it possible for a busy attorney to get more work done sooner.
Just like licensed attorneys, paralegals can also specialize in a particular field. Litigation paralegals, for example, will have greater experience with trials and the work related to them, like calculating and staying on top of filing deadlines, drafting pleadings, and helping their employing attorney at trial. A paralegal that works in-house at a company will have a different skillset, working primarily with board resolutions and keeping track of meeting minutes and other required business documents.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?
If you’re interested in the law but not interested in the cost or additional time commitment of law school, you may have wondered how to become a paralegal. Most paralegals have at least an associate degree in paralegal studies or, along with a bachelor’s degree in another field, a certificate in paralegal studies. At a minimum, law firms require completion of a paralegal certificate program before being hired.
How long it takes to become a paralegal depends on the kind of program you choose. Associates degrees in legal or paralegal studies can be obtained in two years or less, while bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees take four or more years to complete. If two years still seems like a long time, many paralegal certificate programs can be completed in a year or less.
Ready to Explore a Paralegal Career?
Learning more about the paralegal career field is an excellent foundation for your next step. Stratford Career Institute offers a comprehensive paralegal course to help you understand the skills you need.
Enroll in our Paralegal Training course today!
Become a Paralegal
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