Paralegals use their knowledge of U.S. law and court procedures to help attorneys better serve clients. They research case law, write court briefs, and interview clients and witnesses. As law firms and communities work to make the legal system more accessible to the public, paralegals perform more tasks once reserved for licensed attorneys.
Some states have even expanded the responsibility of well-qualified paralegals to handle routine legal matters for clients, such as family law. The training for a paralegal career also develops high-demand skills useful for other professions. Read on for more about becoming a paralegal, paralegal careers, and other criminal justice professions.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
A paralegal works under the supervision and direction of a licensed attorney, and they provide invaluable support to help law offices run smoothly and efficiently. Paralegals research case facts, study relevant laws and court decisions, and summarize documents for attorney review. A paralegal career offers work in private law offices, corporate legal departments, or public agencies. Some paralegals also take on roles as office managers or legal assistants, depending on the size of the office.
Paralegals research case law, write court briefs, and interview clients and witnesses
Becoming a paralegal often requires completing a legal studies, law enforcement, or criminal justice certification or degree program. The curriculum should include computer-aided legal research, writing for the legal field, and court procedures and practices. You need research ability, organizational skills, computer literacy, and communication skills. The work often requires juggling competing priorities and meeting strict deadlines. Paralegals can also develop expertise in a legal specialty, such as corporate law, elder law, or litigation.
Learn More About Paralegal CareersVisit this site to learn more about the qualifications and requirements to become a paralegal, along with other law enforcement fields. Paralegal Job Description: What You'll Do
Paralegal Salary and Job Growth
About 73% of paralegals find careers in the legal services industry, which includes law firms and independent law practices. Most work full time and may put in extra hours to meet deadlines. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median paralegal salary of $50,940, though the highest earners earned salaries of more than $82,000.
Many law firms rely on paralegals to operate efficiently and effectively. Paralegals bill lower rates than attorneys, making it prudent to use their expertise when available. Many corporations also utilize paralegals to reduce their legal costs and assist their in-house counsel. Overall, the BLS projects a 15% growth in employment for paralegals through 2026.
Learn More About Paralegal SalariesA paralegal career can offer strong job growth and a rewarding salary. Use the resources on the following page to learn more about paralegal jobs and legal career opportunities in your region. Paralegal Salary: What You'll Earn
Q&A with a Paralegal
Kristi Fry attended the University of Washington and earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science before attending the University of California, Irvine to receive a paralegal certificate/degree. She has worked in law firms for almost 30 years, dating back to when she was only 16 years old. Fry has maintained employment with her current firm, Fennemore Craig, for almost 10 years. Outside of the office, she has two rescue dogs and is a past volunteer/donor to the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Kristi also volunteers at her daughter's elementary school.
What made you decide to pursue a career as a paralegal? Was it something that you were always interested in?
I worked as a document clerk in a law office as my first job in high school and enjoyed it. When I attended college, I worked part-time in a law firm as a legal assistant. After I graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, I decided to move to California and enroll in UC Irvine's paralegal degree program. During this time, I worked in a family law firm as a legal assistant.
What was the job search like after earning your degree?
After I obtained my paralegal degree from UC Irvine, I left the family law firm for a construction defect/litigation law firm, where my official title was litigation paralegal. I was at that firm for five years, then I moved to Arizona and was hired at Fennemore Craig as a litigation paralegal, where I've been for the past 10 years.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a paralegal? The most challenging aspects?
My favorite part of being a paralegal is seeing a case through to the end at trial — especially if we win! It's very rewarding to sit in the courtroom with a client that you've spent many years working with on their case, and especially if the verdict is in our favor, seeing the reaction and relief from the client is priceless.
Interestingly enough, the trial is also probably one of the most challenging aspects of being a paralegal. Long nights in the office and working weekends are not uncommon in the weeks leading up to trial. The time away from my family can be difficult, especially if the trial is out of state.
What does continuing education look like as a paralegal?
We receive a lot of training through the firm on the various software/review platforms and are also encouraged to attend the litigation lunches, CLEs, etc. It's really up to each individual how much or little they want to learn post-graduation.
What skills are necessary for a paralegal? What kind of person does well in the profession?
Multitasking and attention to detail are definitely critical to the job. Also, paralegals have to be extremely organized, as a big part of our job is document management. I once had a case with close to a million pages of documents. If an attorney needs something quickly, the paralegal has to know where it is, or at least how to locate it quickly. Also, researching skills are a must for a paralegal — not necessarily researching case law, but researching on the internet to locate an individual or information about a piece of property, etc.
What advice would you give to aspiring paralegals?
I love my job and wouldn't change my decision to become a paralegal. I have contemplated the idea of becoming an attorney in the past, but ultimately I like the flexibility that a paralegal has vs. an attorney.
Any final thoughts for us?
Try to get as much hands-on experience as you can in a law environment. While schooling is an important prerequisite for becoming a paralegal and landing a great job, experience in the field is almost as important to prospective employers. Even if the job isn't necessarily a paralegal position, any role in a law firm will give you an insight to the legal jargon, legal environment, etc. that someone without experience won't possess.
Take the Next Steps
Starting your education is one of the first steps in becoming a paralegal. The following resources offer more information on both the different educational tracks available and other careers these degrees prepare you to enter. Always explore your options and consider your interests when choosing your career.
Explore Paralegal and Legal Studies Degrees
Paralegal and legal studies degrees focus on the court system. Learn more about the courses you will take and the types of schools that offer these specialized programs.
Explore Other Careers in Criminal Justice
A criminal justice degree offers courses in law enforcement, courts, and corrections departments in the criminal justice system. This field offers a variety of career opportunities based on your area of specialization and interests.
Professional Organizations and Resources
A paralegal must stay current with changes in laws, new court precedents, and court procedures. Professional organizations ensure their members gain access to this timely information. Several organizations also offer professional certifications that can verify skills, provide a professional code of conduct, and provide a competitive edge in job searches.
Certification also often requires ongoing legal education, which associations provide through seminars, webinars, and conferences. New paralegals can connect with professional mentors and gain access to exclusive job listings.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations This association advocates for the profession through legislatures, court committees, and bar association task forces, promoting the paralegal profession. It also administers the paralegal CORE competency and advanced exams, offers professional development courses, and information on jobs and career guidance.
- National Association of Legal Assistants This organization serves more than 18,000 paralegals through its affiliated groups. It offers certified paralegal and advanced certified paralegal credentials, as well as continuing education opportunities. The career center provides job postings and career tips.
- American Bar Association While many consider the ABA an association of lawyers and jurists, it also serves paralegals with professional development, events, and publications. This organization also offers a variety of career resources, including a job board, and leadership development opportunities.