The Function of a Paralegal
Take a close look at any successful law practice, and you’ll undoubtedly find one or more paralegals working diligently behind the scenes. Paralegals, also known as Legal Assistants, serve as the “right hand” of attorneys, providing a wide variety of essential support services. Most attorneys rely upon these services to successfully represent their clients.
Paralegal duties can vary greatly depending on the needs of the employer, but there are many common functions that most paralegals perform on a daily basis.
One of the most important Paralegal duties is conducting research. Busy attorneys don’t always have the time to do the legal research that is necessary to prepare a case — they typically count on Paralegals to perform this vital, detail-oriented task on their behalf. Paralegals must feel comfortable wading through law books, online databases and other resources to locate relevant case laws and regulations. They must also be able to analyze and interpret the information to efficiently present their findings to the attorney.
Many Paralegals are also accustomed to duties involving the accurate preparation of a variety of documents. Paralegals may be asked to prepare briefs, motions, contracts, reports, agreements, proposed jury instructions and many other types of essential legal documents. Consequently, Paralegals must have strong writing skills in addition to solid legal expertise. They may also be responsible for managing and maintaining the document filing systems used in their law office.
Helping Attorneys Prepare for Trial
Paralegals who work for criminal or civil attorneys often play an important role in trial preparation. These Paralegal duties may involve interviewing potential witnesses, conducting investigations, gathering evidence, and preparing exhibits.
Paralegals may also work with clients and help them learn how to deliver effective testimonies when the trial begins. As the trial unfolds, Paralegal duties can include managing exhibits and documents and taking notes that will be reviewed with the attorney during breaks. A competent and experienced Paralegal can serve as a valuable “sounding board” for the attorney throughout the trial.
In some firms, Paralegals may be asked to perform a variety of administrative duties that are essential to the efficient operation of a law office. In addition to maintaining the firm’s legal research file, they may be responsible for managing the attorney’s schedule, answering phones, and greeting clients and visitors. They often serve as the communication liaison for the attorney by calling or corresponding with clients, witnesses, and other attorneys — they may have to arrange depositions, interviews and meetings.
Firm Size Can Impact Paralegal Duties
The type of law firm, as well as its size, can have a significant impact on the necessary Paralegal duties. For instance, a Paralegal may have to wear many hats when working in a smaller law firm. The actual job functions may even vary from one day to the next.
However, in a larger firm, the Paralegal’s role may be more specialized. Paralegals who work for criminal attorneys may spend a great amount of time dealing with matters related to the judicial system, while those employed by corporate entities are likely to be more involved with preparing business-related legal documents.
How Do You Acquire the Skills Necessary to Perform the Various Paralegal Duties?
The varied skill set that Paralegals need to succeed can be acquired through comprehensive training programs. While some firms used to provide in-house paralegal training for individuals who had some type of legal background, these opportunities have become difficult to find. These days, formal training is a virtual necessity when embarking on the Paralegal career path.
Paralegal Career Training and Degrees
You can earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Paralegal in less than 18 months. A comprehensive Paralegal training program encompasses the various types of law that Paralegals may be working with, including Tort, Family, Real Estate and Criminal law.
These programs will also give you an opportunity to develop your research, writing, computer and administrative skills. By the time you complete your studies and earn your degree, you will be fully prepared to enter this challenging and rewarding career field. You can attend classes in person, but there are also online courses available for this degree.
An online Paralegal program gives you the flexibility to study on your schedule, but still receive the same kind of quality education as those studying on a college campus. Classes are typically available year-round, and accelerated learning will give you the opportunity to earn your degree very quickly. An online AAS in Paralegal will give you the chance to learn from experienced, legal professionals whenever it’s most convenient.