How to Become a Paralegal: Paralegal Schools & Careers
The paralegal profession is competitive and exciting with a wide range of careers and specific fields from which to choose. Education and training requirements vary by region, field, and between companies, but usually involve a minimum of two years of post-secondary study, sometimes culminating in an associate degree, as well as experience. Students can also earn certifications, a bachelor’s degree and even a master’s degree in paralegal studies.
This comprehensive guide includes information and data on education and training as well as key facts about salaries, job prospects and more.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Many paralegals work full-time in private firms, government agencies or corporate legal offices. They handle a broad range of administrative and research duties under the supervision of attorneys. For example, during the course of a day, they may organize and maintain legal files or draft documents, deliver or retrieve documents from the courthouse and conduct intensive legal research in preparation for court. Paralegals also investigate the background facts of cases, organize evidence and documents for attorneys to review, accompany lawyers to court, and manage schedules with witnesses and experts. Specific responsibilities can vary greatly, depending on the department, office or firm in which a paralegal works. Those who work for large firms might handle only one phase of a case, while those in smaller firms could work a case from beginning to end.
Much like lawyers, paralegals can choose to specialize in a certain type of law, which can determine the actual tasks they will spend most of their time doing. Criminal law paralegals, for example, may prepare clients for trial, interview witnesses, research legal precedents pertinent to a case, and must have a wide knowledge of criminal legal issues.
Paralegals working in a corporate setting will assist in legal business transactions for companies, compose employee contracts, prepare financial reports and maintain benefit plans. Immigration paralegals typically work for government organizations, but can also be employed by a firm. They obtain foreign documents, research immigration case laws, prepare paperwork for citizenship and deportation, and handle client concerns. Specialists in labor law review and prepare contracts between companies and their employees, handle litigation from disputes in the workplace, and help to represent businesses or workers.
Paralegals work full-time and earned a median wage of $46,990 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of paralegal jobs pay $75,410 or more per year. Those who work for larger firms or in larger cities tend to earn more than paralegals who work for small firms. The highest annual wages were found in the federal government, followed by finance and insurance, then local governments.
Top 5 Highest Earning States/Areas for Paralegals