What Does a Paralegal Do?
You’ve likely seen television series like the Good Wife or How to Get Away with Murder, which revolves around the life of a protagonist who just so happens to be a lawyer. You see these protagonists advising clients on their best course of legal action, communicating with private investigators, and arguing their client’s case in court, with the occasional personal and workplace drama. But who are those people who work alongside them, oftentimes attending court with them. You know, the guys who seem to be knowledgeable about the law, help prepare cases but don’t actually represent the client in court. They’re called paralegals, and they perform important tasks.
As a paralegal you’ll work with an attorney, fulfilling a role that is integral to the success of a firm. Think of it as being the backbone of the legal process. Some of your duties will include organizing and maintaining legal documents, corresponding with clients, and attending court cases. But your day to day tasks will actually depend on two things: the firm you’re employed with and your area of expertise.
Most paralegals are generalists. They’ll perform any paralegal work that’s required of them. They’ll correspond with clients and prepare them for trial. They’ll conduct legal research and fact check. They’ll analyze and summarize documents. They’ll draft legal documents. They’ll arrange the evidence and legal documents for their attorney to review. They’ll schedule meetings. They’ll keep note of legal deadlines. They’ll interview witnesses. They’ll file exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel. They’ll catalog any electronic material discovered while preparing for the case. This includes emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites. Fulfilling this duty requires that they be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery.
Paralegals that specialize in a field of paralegal work will have a narrower range of duties, but their work will have more depth. Real estate paralegals, for example, prepare title affidavits and legal descriptions of property, complete promissory agreements, explain real estate codes to clients, and distribute real estate documents.
The average paralegal earned $48,810 in 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,010. Because paralegals are paid attractive salaries large firms will tend to restrict the range of their duties. For instance, paralegals working in such a setting will work on one aspect of a case rather than work on it from start to finish. At small firms, the range of duties paralegals perform is broader. They may, in some instances, be required to perform clerical and administrative duties.
The work is quite gruesome. Paralegals work long hours preparing for a case. They work full time, some having to work more than 40 hrs a week to meet deadlines. They are also required to be detail oriented. One small mistake can cause a case to be lost or open up a firm to a malpractice lawsuit. It’s expected that the employment rate of paralegals will increase by 8% in the next 7 years with paralegals with strong computer and database management skills expected to have the best chances of employment.