A paralegal performs a variety of administrative and transactional duties which are aimed at assisting lawyers in carrying out their responsibilities. Also referred to as legal assistants, they are prohibited by law from performing tasks considered “within the scope of practice of law.” These include giving legal advice, presenting cases in a court of law and determining legal fees.
A paralegal is charged with creating legal documents on behalf of his employer. Contracts, wills, briefs, pleadings and appeals must all be written in a specific manner. Following these guidelines, he prepares these documents for presentation to the attorney. In addition, he prepares various reports used by his employer to monitor the progress of each case.
In support of a lawyer’s case, a paralegal performs an abundance of research. She seeks out and compiles relevant information such as statutes and decisions that may have a bearing on current cases being worked on. She finds this information by reviewing legal journals, local and federal laws and other documents.
A formal education is not required to become a paralegal. Many employers provide on-the-job training. Alternatively, many junior colleges administer paralegal programs. Students that matriculate from these courses of study receive either a certificate or an associate’s degree. When considering a program in which to enroll, prospective students should be sure that the institution is approved by the American Bar Association.
There are three organizations that offer certification to paralegals following the successful completion of an examination. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) credentials, both of which are valid for five years. Alternatively, the American Alliance of Paralegals administers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential, also valid for five years. Lastly, paralegals that possess four-year degrees and a minimum of two years professional experience are eligible to pursue the Registered Paralegal (RP) credential. Administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, this designation is maintained by completing twelve hours of continuing education every two years.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid to paralegals in 2008 was $46,120. Rate of income varies, however, depending upon the industry in which the professional works. For example, the median income of paralegals employed by the Federal government was $58,540, while those working for law firms were paid $ $44,480.
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