Paralegal Studies

What is a paralegal?  Most have heard the term before, but don’t fully understand what a paralegal actually is or does.  The short and simple answer is that a paralegal is someone with legal training and experience that assists a lawyer or attorney in their duties. But this does not get to the heart of the complex career of the paralegal.

Paralegals (and legal assistants) are responsible for a variety of support tasks and duties that enable a lawyer to pursue a case or interact with a client.  These tasks are often data and file management and organization, legal research, and document drafting.  Most paralegals work within law firms, their position fundamental to the ability of the law firm to function.  Paralegals may also be hired by corporations of government agencies as part of a larger legal team.  Paralegals cannot work on their own, they must be overseen by a lawyer.

Most paralegals have at least an associate’s degree in law or a related field, as well as experience in the legal workforce as a legal assistant or other administrative position.  Some firms require a bachelor’s degree instead and will forgo work experience.  The main duties of the paralegal are more than just clerical work, they also may help out lawyers during court cases or meet with clients to discuss their defense or legal options.

In nearly all states in the US, a paralegal must work under the direct supervision of an attorney.  While this means that many paralegals are employed within a law firm or a legal division, some paralegals work on a freelance basis and offer their services to legal professionals, such as attorneys and law firms who may need additional legal help.

However, the current trend in the legal sphere is shifting so that paralegals are becoming more autonomous.  Services such as document preparation and review, providing legal information, and explaining legal procedures are more and more falling to paralegals to undertake.  Paralegals often offer these services at a fraction of the cost of a full lawyer because lawyers are often too busy or cost too much for everyone to have access to these basic legal services.  The division is becoming more and more clear-cut, with the assumption that lawyers and attorneys practice law, while paralegals provide general legal assistance.  There will always be a need for paralegals, be it by the general public, overworked legal professionals, or corporate legal teams.

Paralegal studies courses are offered at a wide variety of educational institutions, usually as a certificate program or as an associate’s degree.  Paralegal studies are offered online, in person, or in a hybrid course format, depending on the institution.  The paralegal field has an estimated growth rate hovering around 15% by 2025, which is significantly higher than the expected growth rate of many other occupations, meaning that it’s never been easier to start your career as a paralegal.  All you need to do is find the right school offering the proper course for you and you can start your career as a paralegal before you know it.