Paralegal Job Description and Career Profile

Career Information

Paralegal
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A paralegal provides support to attorneys in a law firm. He or she helps them get ready for trials, hearings, and other legal proceedings by doing legal research, drafting legal documents, interviewing witnesses, and preparing exhibits. Paralegals are sometimes called legal assistants.

Quick Facts

  • Paralegals' median annual salary is $50,410 (2017).
  • 285,600 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • Most jobs are in law firms, but some are with government agencies and legal departments of corporations and other organizations.
  • Employment of paralegals will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 to 2026, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts. The government agency classifies it as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because of its excellent job outlook.

A Day in a Paralegal's Life

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for paralegal positions found on Indeed.com:

  • "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"
  • "Coordinating the firm’s daily court calendar"
  • "Perform legal research and document analysis"
  • "Communicate with clients, adjusters, medical providers, and opposing parties"

Educational Requirements and Certifications

There are a few ways to become a paralegal.

 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. Employers prefer job candidates who have a bachelor's degree. 

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. The American Bar Association, a professional association for attorneys, publishes a directory of approved paralegal education programs.

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. Make sure your certification comes from a legitimate source. Otherwise, it is a waste of your time and money. It is always a good idea to check with your paralegal studies program before you pursue this credential.

What Soft Skills Do Paralegals Need?

Specific soft skills, personal qualities with which you were born or acquired through life experiences, will help you succeed in this field. They are:

  • 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.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Employers indicated the following requirements in jobs listed on Indeed.com. They are in addition to job experience and the skills acquired through training:

  • "Works well under pressure"
  • "Able to manage a heavy work load"
  • "Ability to work with diverse personalities within various levels of the firm"
  • "Capable of receiving constructive feedback, accepting accountability, and taking initiative to improve performance"
  • "Self-motivation, a positive attitude, and the ability to work independently and in a team dynamic"
  • "Strong attention to detail and ability to follow instructions"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Specific traits make an occupation more suitable for an individual. Conduct a self assessment to find out if you have the following interests, personality type, and work-related values:

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2017)Educational Requirements
Court ReporterRecords written transcripts of trials, hearings, and other legal proceedings$55,120Formal training resulting in an associate degree or certificate
MediatorHelps people settle disputes without going to court$60,670Some states require a law degree while others do not
Judicial Law ClerksPrepares documents and does research for judges$51,330Usually requires a law degree

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited June 24, 2018).