What Does a Paralegal Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Paralegals provide support to attorneys in a law firm by helping them get ready for trials, hearings, and other legal proceedings. They may do legal research, draft legal documents, interview witnesses, and prepare exhibits. Paralegals are sometimes called legal assistants.
Paralegal Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following:
- Perform legal research and document analysis
- Assist with the preparation of basic pleadings, such as motions, summons, subpoenas, exhibits, resolutions, and requests and responses to discovery
- Assist in preparing legal documents such as arguments, motions, contracts, and agreements
- Provide litigation case management and organize cases for court presentation
- Coordinate a firm’s daily court calendar
- Organize and maintain paper and electronic legal documents
- Communicate with clients, adjusters, medical providers, and opposing parties
Essentially, paralegals assist lawyers and their firms in all aspects of their work. More specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work. These areas of law can include corporate, litigation, personal injury, criminal, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family, and real estate.
A paralegal's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and whether they're working for a public or private institution.
- Median Annual Salary: $50,410
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $81,180
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $31,130
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
Education Requirements & Qualifications
There are a few ways to become a paralegal. Employers often prefer job candidates who have at least a bachelor's degree.
- Education: You can earn a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, or if you already have one in another discipline, a certificate, which involves intensive study and takes less than a year to complete. Alternatively, you can get an associate degree. Some law firms provide on-the-job training and will hire people without any formal background in paralegal studies.
- Certification: Several local and national paralegal associations offer professional certification to paralegals. This differs from the required certificate you could get instead of a bachelor's or associate degree. It is entirely voluntary, but some feel it can improve one's chances in the job market. It's always a good idea to check with your paralegal studies program before you pursue this credential.
The American Bar Association, a professional association for attorneys, publishes a directory of approved paralegal education programs.
Paralegal Skills & Competencies
Specific skills can help people succeed in this field:
- Reading comprehension: This skill will allow you to deal with the large volume of written material that is a normal part of a paralegal's job.
- Communication skills: Excellent listening and speaking skills are essential for interactions with attorneys and clients.
- Writing skills: Paralegals spend a great deal of time drafting legal documents, and therefore they need to be able to communicate extremely well in writing.
- Critical thinking: The ability to evaluate solutions to problems and choose the one that has the best chance of success is necessary.
- Time management: Because there will typically be tight deadlines, you must know how to manage your time well.
Employment of paralegals will grow much faster than the average for all occupations, at 15 percent between 2016 to 2026, according to forecasts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The average growth for all jobs during the same period is 7 percent.)
Paralegals do a majority of their job in offices. They may travel to conduct research, collect documents, or accompany lawyers to court. Most jobs are in law firms, but some are with government agencies and legal departments of corporations and other organizations.
Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time during regular business hours. Depending on their employer, some may work more than 40 hours per week.