What is a paralegal, and how much do they make? It’s a common question for those pursuing the field. Paralegals work closely alongside lawyers in just about all aspects of the legal profession. Working as a paralegal can entail everything from summarizing legal precedent reports to drafting motions. Either way, the primary job of a paralegal is to lighten the attorney’s load immensely.
Like attorneys, paralegals specialize in various facets of law, such as:
Paralegals are also called legal assistants, and it’s up to their employer’s discretion what their involvement will be in each case. Some paralegals have a high level of freedom and responsibility, while others are more limited with smaller roles. The most effective paralegals, however, are those who can operate confidently in the background, while also being a team player.
While often employed by government agencies, law firms, and legal corporation departments, paralegals can work in a variety of settings. No matter what setting you decide to work in, there are three paralegal facts you might not know. These are:
- There are many benefits of being a paralegal.
- The paralegal career outlook is promising.
- The duties and career paths of paralegals are diverse.
To answer the question, “What is it like being a paralegal?”, let’s take a look at each of these facts in more detail.
1) Many Benefits of Being a Paralegal
No matter what career you involve yourself in, it’s likely going to have its ups and downs. However, becoming a paralegal has many benefits, like the ones listed below, making it an appealing career choice.
The good thing about this profession is there is a high demand for lawyers — and they always need knowledgeable, dependable paralegal assistants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by 2022, the paralegal field will add at least 46,200 new jobs, translating to a 17 percent growth rate between 2012 and 2022.
As a paralegal, you’ll have the opportunity to help people, many of whom will be suffering through difficult times in their lives. When you can help someone who is struggling get back on their feet, you’ll feel proud of this rewarding career.
Opportunity for Growth
There’s a grand opportunity for advancement in the paralegal career path. Many paralegals go on to more challenging management or supervisory positions.
Relatively Quick Education
A lot of career choices require a bachelor’s degree. However, the paralegal career path requires an associate degree, which takes no more than two years to get. In some circumstances, you can get the degree in as little as one year. Some schools offer a paralegal certificate only, but most employers want to see at least a paralegal degree. Even more prefer you get your degree from an American Bar Association-approved paralegal school.
Jobs in Other Industries
During your training as a paralegal, you learn a variety of transferable skills, such as:
- Computer proficiency
You can home in on these crucial skills early in your career to increase your chances of advancement. You may even find opportunities outside the traditional finance, insurance, government, or law firm agencies, like real estate, for instance.
You may decide to stay in a law firm setting, but move to another firm when you’re looking for an advancement or increased responsibility, particularly if the law firm you’re working for is small and can’t offer you an opportunity to advance.
Ability to Become Self-Employed
There’s also a choice to become self-employed, where you can offer your services remotely as a virtual paralegal or on a contract basis. You’ll pick up freelance work on an as-needed basis, instead of working for a single employer. While you’ll still be under the direct supervision of a lawyer, you’ll be working from your home and setting your hours.
Ability to Specialize
When you’re already a paralegal, you can then decide to specialize in a certain area and receive your certificate as a specialist. Once you receive your certificate in your specialty, there will be a higher demand for your service — which usually translates into a larger salary. In fact, when you specialize in something, it’s a perfect way to market yourself to law firms. Many attorneys are looking for workers with experience in specific areas of interest and special cases.
First Step Into Law School
Imagine if you went one step further and offered yourself the supreme promotion — becoming an attorney. It’s a possibility. Many individuals get into the paralegal profession temporarily, with their ultimate goal being to complete law school, pass the bar exam and become a lawyer.
Many paralegals find they love the law as they’re developing in their career, which leads them to attend law school. When you already have knowledge and paralegal background, it gives you a clear-cut advantage over those who don’t have any experience at all in the industry.
What should you expect as a paralegal? Once you become a legal assistant, you can expect hours of hard work, but it’s worth it.
2) Promising Paralegal Career Outlook
The paralegal job outlook is favorable regarding both growth and salary.
Paralegal Projected Job Growth
BLS estimates project paralegal careers will grow around 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which outpaces all other occupation averages.
Law firms are expected to hire more legal assistants and paralegals to reduce their costs and increase their legal services efficiency. In these situations, paralegals may play an essential role in the firm by taking on a “best-of-both-worlds” role. They will perform not just their paralegal duties, but they may also pick up the responsibilities of former legal support workers and legal secretaries.
As clients pursue cheaper legal services, lawyers are also trying to cut down on billing costs. Since they are billing clients lower rates, hiring paralegals is a more affordable alternative to attorneys, since they can perform a whole range of duties entry-level lawyers once performed. As paralegals shoulder increased work responsibilities, it increases the demand for legal assistants and paralegals.
Even though most paralegals choose to work in law firms, there are still many larger businesses and corporations looking to cut costs by increasing their in-house legal departments. Outside law firms can get costly. Therefore, in-house counsel is a more economical choice for many companies. Again, this raises the demand for paralegals in many settings, such as:
- Consulting firms
- Health care
How much money do paralegals make? The entry-level paralegal salary is around $31,374 and goes as high as $67,961 or more, reports Payscale.com as of December 2017. According to the BLS, in May 2016, paralegals made a median annual wage of $49,500. BLS states $31,070 was the lowest 10 percent earned, and $80,260 was the highest 10 percent made.
Looking at the top industries for legal assistants and paralegals for May 2016, the median annual wages were:
- State government, excluding hospitals and education — $46,810
- Legal services — $47,450
- Local government, excluding hospitals and education — $48,920
- Insurance and finance — $59,570
- Federal government — $64,650
Most legal assistants and paralegals work a full-time schedule of 40 hours per week. However, some might work more than 40 hours a week to maintain deadlines, which provides paralegals the opportunity to earn overtime pay.
Paralegal salaries will vary according to certain factors, including:
- Employer size
- Work experience
If you’re working for a large metropolitan law firm, chances are you’ll earn a lot more than those working for smaller law firms. You will also earn other types of benefits, such as:
- Health, dental, and life insurance
- Paid sick leave
- Vacation time
- Retirement plan
You may even receive reimbursement for continuing education courses.
3) Diverse Paralegal Duties and Career Paths
Still asking yourself, “How do I become a paralegal?” It’s understandable you might want to investigate a little further what the paralegal career entails.
If you look inside a successful law firm, you’ll no doubt see hardworking, diligent paralegals in the background. Most attorneys rely on paralegals to help them represent their clients successfully. Some responsibilities of a paralegal include:
- Explore and collect facts for a case.
- Investigate research on relevant regulations, laws, and legal articles.
- Summarize or write reports to assist attorneys in preparing for their trials.
- Organize and maintain electronic filing systems or paper documents.
- Collect and organize legal documentation, like evidence for case preparation and lawyer review.
- Draft legal documents and correspondence, such as mortgages and contracts.
- File briefs, appeals, exhibits, and other legal documentation with the opposing counsel or the court.
- Help attorneys handle exhibits, review trial transcripts, or take notes during trials.
- Get formal statements like affidavits that lawyers can use in court as evidence.
- Call witnesses, clients, outside vendors, and lawyers to schedule meetings, interviews, and depositions.
- Help attorneys prepare for trials, hearings, and corporate meetings.
Paralegals use computer software and technology for organizing and managing the increased amounts of data collected and documents during a case. Many paralegals review and catalog documents using computer software for specific subjects or keywords.
Because of your responsibilities as a paralegal, you’ll need to be familiar with the latest, innovative electronic discovery software and database management. Electronic discovery is all the electronic data different parties obtain during the investigation or litigation. This data may include:
- Accounting databases
Your duties as a paralegal can differ immensely, depending on what your employer requires. However, you’ll typically perform a set of specific daily functions.
Conducting research is among the essential duties you will perform. Busy lawyers can’t always conduct all the necessary research for preparing their case. Therefore, they rely on their paralegal to handle this important responsibility for them.
You’ll need to be comfortable with sifting through online databases and law books, as well as other sources, to identify relevant regulations and laws regarding the case at hand. You’ll need to be able to interpret and analyze the information effectively and present it to the lawyer.
Paralegals are often accustomed to responsibilities involving efficient preparation of multiple types of documents. For instance, your employer will likely ask you to prepare:
- Proposed jury instructions
Other necessary legal documents require strong writing skills and legal expertise. You’ll also have to manage and maintain the law office’s document filing systems.
Helping the Lawyer in Trial Preparation
If you work for a civil or criminal lawyer, you’ll also be in charge of trial preparation. Your duties may include:
- Conducting investigations
- Interviewing potential witnesses
- Preparing exhibits
- Gathering evidence
You may work directly with clients, helping them practice how to give an effective testimony during the trial. Once the trial begins, you’ll manage documents and exhibits, take notes, and review the information with the lawyer during breaks.
In some cases, you may also be responsible for a large scope of administrative work essential for the law office to run efficiently. You may need to maintain the lawyer’s schedule, greet visitors and clients, answer phones, and other various tasks. You will serve as the lawyer’s communication liaison by corresponding with and calling witnesses, clients, and lawyers.
If you work for a smaller law firm, you may have a whole range of different responsibilities varying from day to day. In larger firms, however, you may have a more specialized role. If you work for a criminal lawyer, for example, you may spend a lot of your time handling judicial system-related matters. But, if you work for a corporate entity, it’s more likely you’ll be preparing legal, business-related documents.
Getting Your Paralegal Education at Vista College
As a paralegal, you need to have strong knowledge of the state and federal rules of substantive law and legal procedure and legal terminology. You’ll need stellar organizational skills so you can manage comprehensive exhibits and case files with an abundance of documents.
Since you’ll be interacting regularly with vendors, clients, lawyers, experts, and court personnel, you’ll need good communication skills. Your writing and research skills need to be up to par as well for drafting:
- Research memoranda
So, how long does it take to become a paralegal? You’ll need to earn your associate of applied science degree in paralegal by enrolling in a paralegal training program, like the one offered here at Vista College. In this program, you’ll learn different types of law you’ll be working with as a paralegal, such as family, tort, criminal, and real estate.
You’ll have the chance to develop your computer, research, writing, and administrative skills in this type of program. Once you’ve completed the paralegal education requirements and earned your associate degree, you’ll be ready to dive into this rewarding career. This program is available online or on campus.
On-Campus Paralegal Associate Degree Program at Vista College
Vista College on-campus paralegal training programs are available at:
- Beaumont, Texas
- College Station, Texas
- El Paso, Texas — main campus
- Fort Smith, Ark.
- Killeen, Texas
- Las Cruces, N.M.
- Longview, Texas
- Lubbock, Texas
- Lubbock, Texas – Frankford branch campus
Online Campus Paralegal Associate Degree Program at Vista College
Online programs are flexible enough to allow you to study at your pace and on your schedule, but still get the same quality of learning you would when attending classes in person. Online classes give you the opportunity of earning your associate degree fast, with classes usually held year ‘round. You’ll have the chance to learn from experienced experts in the legal field.
So, how do you become a paralegal? You’ll spend the next couple of years of your life studying at an accredited institution like Vista College. At Vista College, one of our admissions representatives will sit down with you to go over your career goals and aspirations. We’ll answer all your questions and explain the process of getting your paralegal associate degree.
Contact us here at Vista College by calling the campus of your choice and speaking to a Vista College admissions representative today, or request more information through our online form.