The paralegal job description includes a wide variety of responsibilities intended to assist lawyers in their preparation for hearings, trials, meetings and other legal procedures.
As a paralegal, your specific duties can vary depending on the nature of your workplace and the type of law that is practiced there. Typical paralegal tasks include legal research, preparing documents, managing cases, and communicating with clients. In most legal settings, a paralegal job description includes performing many of the same tasks that lawyers do, though under the supervision of an attorney licensed in the state in which you’re employed. While your responsibilities may be broad, paralegals can’t represent clients or provide legal advice.
The Role of a Paralegal and its Origins
Paralegals play an important role in helping to make legal services more available and affordable to the American public. The role originated in the 1960s when public service agencies wanted to make legal services accessible to people who couldn’t afford them. To do so, the agencies trained individuals to do basic legal procedures so that people didn’t need lawyers to access the legal system.
By the 1980s, paralegals became an integral part of legal teams in law firms and other organizations. Clients benefited because the work done by paralegals was billed at lower rates than those charged by attorneys. Lawyers gained because they were able to increase efficiency and workloads by handing off some of their tasks to paralegals.
The paralegal job description has expanded to include more substantive and complex responsibilities as the demand for legal services has increased. The fact that paralegals prepare for their careers with post-secondary education indicates that the position is considered a legitimate profession. Most competitive paralegal positions require that candidates have a knowledge of the legal system to fulfill the paralegal job description. A typical paralegal enters the field after the completion of a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
The paralegal job description covers many different types of tasks. A successful paralegal is someone who is able to shift gears to accommodate the changing needs of each case or client. As a paralegal, you may spend one day communicating with clients, and the next day organizing court exhibits. Paralegals who work in large organizations may have more specializes tasks, while those in smaller organizations may be required to pitch in wherever the need is the greatest. Paralegals who work on a freelance, contract, or virtual basis may specialize in certain types of law or support services. Most paralegals have responsibilities in some of the following categories:
One of the most common responsibilities of any paralegal job description involves legal research. This can range from general background searches to investigating specific points of law. You may perform these tasks in many environments, which can require:
- library research of laws, regulations, codes, precedents, or periodicals
- electronic investigation of data, databases, or websites
- exploration of public records, codes, or titles
- investigation and location of witnesses
- identification of appropriate experts or outside investigators when needed
- organization and maintenance of a legal library and legal subscription services
In helping to coordinate and manage cases, many paralegal tasks involve communication with clients, the courts, or outside sources on behalf of their employers. You may be required to perform these tasks in-person, via phone or electronically, which may involve:
- scheduling interviews, meetings or depositions
- filing legal documents with the courts or opposing counsel
- contacting and interviewing clients or witnesses regarding case details
- arbitrating disputes between parties to resolve conflicts
- consulting relevant sources or specialists for background or clarifications
- updating lawyers and others on case status, litigation changes, or other information that could affect a case or procedure
Paralegals in all legal specialties often prepare and draft documents for approval by their supervising lawyers. These responsibilities require detail-oriented work as you define the specific points necessary to accommodate the each unique document and case. Your tasks involving document preparation may require:
- composing legal documents such as contracts, wills, and real estate closings
- preparing briefs and summaries
- obtaining, summarizing, and distributing court transcripts
- managing correspondence to clients, courts, and other involved parties
- drafting court documents such as pleadings or appeals for lawyer approval
- coordinating translators or other specialists for document review when necessary
The paralegal job description often involves tasks related to overseeing the organization of each case and its individual components. Depending on your position and experience, these responsibilities can involve varying degrees of case management. Your duties related to case organization may include:
- filing of petitions with court clerk
- inventory and organization of material objects such as exhibits or personal property
- coordination and scheduling of subpoena deliveries
- organization of all law office activity and documents related to a case or procedure
- arrangement of meetings, office space, travel, and other logistical details
- supervision of other paralegals or legal office staff
Specialties to Pursue
There are many specialty areas that attorneys and paralegals practice, and many are exclusive to these fields. You may have a good idea of what area you would like to pursue based on your real-world experience or intellectual curiosity. For instance, some who have experience with immigration may specialize in that area of law. Others may be fascinated by the new challenges arising in intellectual property law and decide to work for a patents attorney.
Discovering your desired specialty area will be helpful for a couple of reasons. First, you can pursue the career area that most interests you; Second, you can choose a paralegal program that will educate you in the areas that most interest you and your resume will be impressive when you can speak directly to a law firm’s legal strengths. Here are a few specialty areas you might consider:
• Commercial Litigation
• Family Law & Divorces
• Wills and Trusts
• Real Estate
• Bankruptcy Laws
• Criminal Law
• Intellectual Property
• Labor Law
• Personal Injury
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