Paralegals are people who work to assist attorneys in completing basic tasks. The terms paralegal and legal assistant are interchangeable. For those interested in a career in law, working as a paralegal is great way to learn about working in the legal field without having to commit years to attending law school. Working as a paralegal can also be a productive way for a person interesting in becoming an attorney to earn money and gain experience. Some law firms will even pay for successful paralegals to attend law school. I have worked as a paralegal in two different types of law offices: a large government office and a small private practice.
Paralegals complete routine tasks for attorneys to allow the attorney to focus on more complicated tasks. For example, a paralegal may interview new clients, prepare case files, contact courts and other law offices to schedule meetings and draft letters and other correspondence. Paralegals may also assist a lawyer with drafting court orders and related documents, but this is only done with attorney approval. Paralegals will often complete these tasks by using standardized forms. Paralegals often spend a lot of time on the phone, talking with clients and other legal professionals.
In a small law firm, a paralegal may complete a wide variety of tasks. This would include traditional paralegal duties as well as answering the phone, completing basic accounting tasks such as accounts payable and receivable and other basic office duties. Paralegals who work in a large law firm will often have a different experience that a paralegal working in a smaller practice. In larger law firms, paralegals may specialize on one task in the office such as interviewing clients, building case files or assisting an attorney in court. Paralegals in larger firms may also work exclusively with one or two attorneys and complete all paralegal tasks for those attorneys.
The required training to become a paralegal varies from one firm to another. Many firms will train paralegals with only a high school diploma, but others prefer to hire people with a four year degree or with an associate’s degree or another certification specifically designed to train paralegals or legal assistants. Vocational schools and community colleges commonly offer training for those interested in becoming a paralegal. Regardless of education, a person wanting to work as a paralegal will need to be familiar with the use of a variety of computer programs, with basic office practices and have strong communication skills.