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Job expectations and salaries for Paralegals

If you are seeking a career in law but don't want to go to law school or argue cases before a court, consider becoming a paralegal. Sometimes known as a legal assistant, a paralegal aids attorneys in many legal tasks such as case preparation, research, and preparation of legal documents. A paralegal can perform many of the same duties as a lawyer except giving legal advice, establishing legal fees, arguing cases in court and anything else that could be construed as practicing law.

A Basic Job Description

Paralegals are often the backbone of any law practice as lawyers simply do not have the time to accomplish every single legal task that is required to work a case. One of the most important functions of a paralegal is assisting lawyers in preparing for court hearings, trials, depositions, witness interviews, and opening and closing arguments for a court trial. Investigating facts, legal precedents and other research is essential.

In regards to lawsuits and other court filings, a paralegal may prepare motions and write pleads, aid in legal arguments, acquire affidavits and provide assistance in the courtroom. Organization is essential when keeping track of all the legal files and maintaining order for the lawyers. Paralegals may also perform a variety of other critical activities such as draft wills and trust documents, prepare contracts, create separation and divorce papers and even prepare paperwork for a mortgage. The duties of a paralegal can vary depending on the type of law practice or situation.

A number of different organizations may employ paralegals including corporate legal departments, law firms, and the government at local, state and federal levels. Within these organizations, all types and levels of law may be covered including family law, real estate, corporate law, bankruptcy, criminal law, personal injury, labor law and more. Some paralegals even specialize within a certain field of law. For example, in a family law practice, a paralegal may specialize in the rights and laws pertaining to senior citizens or children.

Certain skills are essential in the professional life of a paralegal. Excellent knowledge of the computer and its software is important as is navigating the internet and the many research sites and databases often used by the law profession. Ferreting out facts such as law statutes, previous court cases and other litigious information is a key component of a paralegal, regardless of the type of law they serve.

Education and Training

The majority of employers that hire paralegals typically require formal training either through a certification program, a two-year associate's degree, or a four-year bachelor's degree. Some community colleges, universities, and other educational institutions have specialized paralegal programs which would be optimal if you are seeking a career in this field. You might have to earn a degree first and then enter a special paralegal certification program. Some employers may not require specialized paralegal training, preferring to train a new college graduate on the job to their particular specifications.

While there are close to 1,000 official paralegal training programs offered in the United States through technical colleges, community colleges, four-year universities, law schools and business schools, only 250 of them are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). While an ABA-approved paralegal certification or degree is not necessarily a requirement, it can definitely boost your job prospects. Choose a college or school that offers internship and job placement assistance as these two perks are the hallmark of a good paralegal program.

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

Currently, there is employment growth in the paralegal field but competition will be rather stiff for available openings. Many new positions open each year in both the public and private sector in all fields of law and other positions open each year as others retire. Within a few years, the field of graduates in paralegal programs is expected to outpace the number of jobs available. For this reason, it is important to obtain a two or four year degree as well as specialized paralegal training. Choosing a specialized field may boost your chances of securing a paralegal position.

Salary for a paralegal can differ greatly. Geography, size of the employer, education, experience, specialized training, and the type of law you work in all play a part in salary determination. Paralegals who work in metropolitan areas for large law firms or corporations will likely earn more than those who work in less populated areas or smaller companies or law practices. The typical work week is a regular 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. position, although special cases and emergencies may crop up requiring overtime.

On average, a paralegal's starting salary is approximately $25,000 to $30,000 per year. With a few years' experience, the median salary is anywhere from $30,000 to $45,000 a year. Experienced paralegals with seniority could potentially earn $50,000 to $60,000 a year with larger firms. Some governmental agencies offer excellent benefit plans and decent salaries with paralegals at the state level earning approximately $33,000 a year, while federal government paralegals earn around $45,000 per year. The bottom line is the better your education and training, the higher salary you can expect.

Schools OfferingParalegal Courses:

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