Lawyers hire paralegals to make their lives easier. Much of the work an attorney does can be done by a paralegal. It is against legal ethics for paralegals to give legal advice to clients or to appear on behalf of a client in court. Otherwise, paralegals can do pretty much anything a lawyer can do and for a much cheaper rate.
Paralegal Studies Degree or Certificate
Most lawyers expect their paralegals to have some type of paralegal degree. Some law firms will only hire paralegals who went to ABA-approved paralegal programs. The American Bar Association recommends two and four year colleges, many of which offer an option for obtaining an online paralegal degree.
Many lawyers want paralegals with a particular set of experience. Paralegals only receive an overview of a limited number of practice areas in college, and they will not receive training in every area of law. Most of a paralegal’s experience comes from hands-on learning through internships or previous jobs.
Most lawyers and law firms specialize in only a few types of law, and they want to hire a paralegal who has some experience in that area. For example, a personal injury law firm would be less likely to hire someone whose only experience is in bankruptcy law. Likewise, criminal and civil lawyers handle very different types of cases. Most law firms do not want to train someone from scratch and prefer to hire someone who already knows at least most of the job.
Paralegals should be skilled at legal researching and writing, as these skills are sought after by almost every lawyer who hires a legal assistant. Lawyers also like to hire paralegals who are good at technology and are skilled at learning new things. Skills that were once valuable, like taking shorthand and using a typewriter, have been replaced with online transcription software and apps. With current advancements in e-discovery and online court filing, it is important to hire a paralegal who can adapt and change with the times.
Paralegals need to function well under stress, because most lawyers have a lot of things going on at once. For the same reason, most lawyers want to hire a paralegal who is very organized and efficient. In some jobs, paralegals have a lot of contact with clients over the phone and at the office. Therefore, most lawyers want to hire paralegals who are good at communicating orally as well as in writing.
A paralegal who hopes to find a job in today’s legal environment should know more than the latest word processing software. Especially in a small law firm, paralegals might be in charge of office management and billing in addition to doing legal work. It is important to find the right paralegal degree program and to secure an internship to learn the ropes. It is also important to stay on top of the latest trends in legal technology and develop strong communication skills. By doing these things, a paralegal will be able to find and maintain success in the legal profession.
This article is from Marlena Stoddard, who writes on health, parenting and everything in between. Originally from Senoia, GA, Marlena lives in Santa Rosa, CA with her husband and two children. When she isn’t spending time with her children or writing, Marlena enjoys hiking and photography, animals and painting. For more on Marlena, you can follow her on Google+.