By obtaining a paralegal certificate, you will be prepared to handle various tasks to help attorneys and legal departments prepare legal documents and assist their clients. While the subjects that are covered in a paralegal certificate program do not prepare you to provide legal advice, they do give graduates a basic knowledge of legal ethics, legal research and contracts. Since most law firms specialize in one area of law, a paralegal certificate program should also offer training in the basic skills required to work at any type of law firm by including advanced courses in areas such as real estate, tort or criminal law. With this preparation you have several options in your career as a paralegal or legal assistant.
There are several different types of employers you can work for with a paralegal certificate. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most paralegals are employed by attorneys. Attorneys work in large, medium-sized or small law firms. Depending on the size of the firm, you may be working with a firm that has as many as 500 lawyers and several offices throughout a city or state or as few as five attorneys working in one office. In larger firms, paralegals are assigned to work within a department specializing in one of the areas of law that the firm handles. In smaller firms, paralegals assist one or more attorneys. They may also handle general office tasks.
Paralegals can also work for the government. Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice or the Social Security Administration regularly employ paralegals to handle a variety of legal duties such as preparing legal documents and conducting legal research for appeals.
You may also choose to use your business skills by working as a corporate paralegal. Large corporations have legal departments that handle everything from lawsuits to employee benefits. Insurance companies are also among the businesses that hire paralegals as they often go to court to represent their clients in injury or insurance related cases.
Some of the other less obvious employers of certified paralegals include title companies that hire certified paralegals as title clerks and banks that handle legal documents related to bank accounts and loans.
Projections provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a 22 percent increase in the employment of paralegals through the year 2016. This increase will mostly be caused by the need to make legal services more affordable. Lawyers are also seeking more opportunities to pass on the research and writing tasks to paralegals so they can focus on representing their clients and building their businesses.
Many of today's most experienced paralegals began their careers by working as legal secretaries and legal transcriptionists---positions that allowed them to gain experience and receive on-the-job training. As more of these experienced paralegals retire, new paralegals are expected to have formal training that will allow them to take over the tasks that the experienced paralegals handled. A paralegal certificate might only qualify you for an entry-level position in the legal field. To increase your marketability, take continuing education courses and obtain professional certifications in a specialized area of law that interests you.
Increasing opportunities in this field will make jobs more competitive for those seeking work or advancement. Your level of experience and training will have an impact on what type of job opportunities you are offered.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, most entry-level paralegal jobs pay around $30,000 per year. As you gain experience and specialized training, you can make more than $50,000 a year. In addition to paying a good salary, most law firms offer their employees a complete benefits package and bonuses. If you work for a busy law firm, you can also earn a substantial amount of money working overtime when you help your supervising attorney prepare for trial.
Any job in the legal field offers the opportunity to work closely with a variety of legal professionals including attorneys, court personnel and police officers. You can use this experience to advance your career and become an attorney or start your own paralegal business.
With technological advances and more law firms using the Internet to deliver legal services, you might have an opportunity to find work as a virtual legal assistant. This would allow you to assist attorneys as an independent contractor working from home.
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