What Paralegals Do
Paralegals are the right hand of attorneys / lawyers. They handle a lot of the administrative work associated with legal matters, including filing court documents, research, completing documents, and some of the fact-to-face interactions with clients.
They may work directly for law firms and attorneys, support the needs of businesses or government agencies, or work independently in legal document preparation. Although some paralegals work in all areas of law, most have a specialty, such as family, criminal, corporate, or personal injury law.
Who would enjoy a career in Paralegal?
People who are interested in the legal system and want to make a difference in the lives of others are often drawn to careers as paralegals. It’s a good path for someone who is hungry for knowledge, detail oriented, and works well under pressure. Effective communications skills, as well as comfort with various forms of technology, are essential.
Who mightn't like the career?
It’s important not to go into a paralegal career with rose-colored glasses or high expectations, as some positions entail unpleasant tasks, such as filing legal documents that can upset the lives of others, and not all firms are dedicated to helping people, nor are they all ethical.
Although paralegals have many choices on where they wish to work, these challenges, as well as the potential to be in a position that requires repetitive work, should be taken into consideration before starting. It’s also worth noting that the position is sometimes very stressful and hours may vary, particularly when a case is going to trial. For this reason, those who need a more relaxed environment or more dependable hours don’t enjoy the career.
Because paralegals work under the direction of lawyers, there aren’t any hard requirements for education or licensure. However, most paralegals have at least a bachelor’s degree, while others take specialized paralegal training, which can sometimes be completed in just a few months of study.
Various professional organizations offer credentialing for trained paralegals, and this can help professionals set themselves apart from other applicants. Apprenticeships and internships may also serve as a pathway into the career. Those with no legal background may have luck volunteering at a law office to get experience too.
- Advice for Getting Hired as a Paralegal
- Paralegal Job Interview Guide: Paralegal Job Interview Questions And Answers
Moving into Paralegal from another career
The training to become a paralegal is relatively simple, compared to other skilled careers, which means almost anyone with an interest in law can train and transition into the field in just few months. However, it generally appeals to people in legal entry-level positions, such as secretaries and administrative assistants. For more information, see “Carrying Over Your Existing Skills Into A Career As A Paralegal,” “Changing Careers? Consider Paralegal,” and “Comparing the Struggle of Nurses With That of Paralegals.”
Role: In most cases, there is not a career ladder for paralegals to climb. Many paralegals that study law naturally go on to become a lawyer and a paralegal role is typically a stepping stone to a summer clerk, legal intern or graduate lawyer role. Once hired, they begin working under the title, and retain it their whole careers, though the difficulty of tasks assigned and the rate of pay will increase with experience. On any given day, a paralegal may review documents, create documents, perform research, file documents with the court, make sure interested parties receive copies of documents, and ensure subpoenas are seen to. Following up on deadlines and overseeing the general flow of a case typically winds up on the shoulders of paralegals as well. They also meet with clients to gather information and for signings.
Negligible travel to a courthouse, client, or other law firm may occasionally be necessary.
Entry-Level (0-5 years): According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD $37,400 in the United States, £18,240 in the United Kingdom, CAD$41,000 in Canada, and AU$49,680 in Australia.
Mid-Career (5-10 years): USD$47,080, £22,040, CAD$53,000, AU$60,480.
Experienced (10-20 years): USD$51,480, £23,370, CAD$59,500, AU$61,020.
Late-Career (20+ years): USD$55,440, £24,510, CAD$63,000, AU$64,800.
Bonuses, commission, and profit sharing are not always part of a paralegal’s pay, but when they are, they may add a few thousand dollars on top of the base salary.
Why Paralegals move on
For many, being a paralegal is an entryway into the field of law, and they attain a law degree while working as a paralegal. Others move between firms or types of law specialties. However, for some, the pressure, stress, and office politics becomes too much or their firm downsizes or outsources. For more information, see “For those exiting the paralegal field- your thoughts and feelings?” and “How To Quit Your Paralegal Job Gracefully.”
Unfortunately, training and experience as a paralegal is quite niche and specific, so skills do not readily transfer into new careers outside of law, with the exception of general administrative, project management and organisational skills. Those who don’t have additional skills and training typically go through another type of vocational training to switch careers, be it an IT field, like development or design, or healthcare, such as a medical or dental assistant. Financial careers, such as banking and accounting, are also popular.