Often mistakenly referred to as legal assistants, paralegals are some of the most important members of a law firm. Paralegals need a great deal of training and education if they want to get ahead in the legal world. The paralegal job description entails responsibilities such as interviewing, investigating, talking to clients, doing the law firm’s necessary legal research, as well as preparing most legal documents.
Job Overview: What Does a Paralegal Do?
Like most jobs in the legal system, a surprisingly high percentage of these trained professionals work under a lot of pressure and stressful conditions.
There is a wide array of specialties that paralegals can focus on, such as litigation, immigration, corporate, real estate, bankruptcy, family, and even criminal affairs. The paralegal job description can widely vary depending on what country the professional is activating in.
Paralegal Job Duties
The paralegal job description encompasses duties that greatly vary depending on the specialty, place of employment, and especially rank of each individual. Senior paralegals generally have a completely different job description, and once they move up the law firm’s ladder, they won’t need to perform any more secretary work. The administrative work is left to the person that has the secretary job description. For example, a transactional paralegal could help with a foreclosure on a property, while a trademark paralegal could help patent an IP.
Additional tasks this professional needs to handle are:
- Doing legal research.
- Preparing presentations for trials.
- Interviewing clients.
- Drafting contracts and other legal documents.
- Handle most administrative duties.
Paralegal Job Essential Skills
Since the job does belong in the legal field, aside from a certain level of discipline and the ability to be discreet, there are also other key features which an aspiring paralegal should possess.
Organizational Skills. A good paralegal needs to be able to plan and organize his work properly. He must understand the importance of deadlines; and must possess a great attention to detail in order to complete all of his tasks in time.
Analytical Skills. This professional has to be a good researcher and know how to monitor information. He must also have a strong tolerance to stress and not overreact, instead always rationalize every situation.
Interpersonal Skills. The paralegal job description also entails a certain degree of empathy, the ability to relate to people. As well as to be highly trustworthy, discreet, and use good judgment.
Field knowledge. The paralegal job description demands technical proficiency, good grammar knowledge, as well as writing and editing abilities.
Becoming a Paralegal Professional
There are no educational requirements for the paralegal job description, however, it takes a great deal of education and training to make a career jump through a promotion. And with their salary ranging from the middle (for junior paralegals) to the upper tiers (for senior paralegals), the benefits generally outweigh the disadvantages. It is stressful to be a paralegal, especially since working hours can be extremely hectic.
Qualifications and Training
While most law firms around the country don’t really require any qualifications in order to get a job as a paralegal, some are actually pretty strict about their mandates. These are usually either very respectable law firms, companies run by stern foreign CEOs, or recently opened businesses.
The only thing that is absolutely mandatory is a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or certificate program in paralegal studies. Some of the qualifications required by these out-of-the-ordinary employers include an award in legal studies; a paralegal practice diploma, certificate, or award; a law degree; or a legal secretary certificate or diploma.
The thing that draws most people to the paralegal job description is that no prior work experience is necessary in order to get a job. An aspiring paralegal could get hired the day after they get their diploma. While experience is preferable, as is the case with most professional fields, it is not a legal requirement.
Having a special diploma or finishing a number of courses are not requirements either, although they do help in most cases. However, the requirements for this job depend on the employer, and they greatly vary from company to company.
Generally, a paralegal job description entails a work week of forty hours, with around eight hours worked Monday through Friday. However, in the case of significant events such as a trial or a client emergency, the hours can easily jump to sixty or eighty a week. These situations can last for months and are not even the most chaotic times in a paralegal’s work schedule.
The most chaotic element of a paralegal’s job description is certainly related to billable and unbillable hours. Often paralegals have to balance their schedule between both types of working hours.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
Paralegals have one of the most complicated job paths. There isn’t too much room to progress as a paralegal without having a law school degree, which often forces junior paralegals to go back to law school in order to get a degree.
Paralegals in the UK or Canada have better prospects than their United States counterparts. For example, in the United Kingdom, The National Association of Licenced Paralegals offers legal training and recognized professional qualifications to paralegals, while Canada is the only place in the Western world where paralegals are actual regulated licensed professionals and regulated officers of the court.
To conclude, the paralegal job description is one of the most demanding jobs in the field, responsibilities ranging in difficulty. Juniors have it more difficult to advance in a law firm, however, those who manage to do so can end up in a respected position such as the one of a full-fledged lawyer.