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Legal Assistant / Paralegal
How to become a Legal Assistant or Paralegal
A legal assistant is a person who works directly under the supervision of an attorney. The terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are completely interchangeable, much like the words "lawyer" and "attorney." Legal assistants generally possess legal knowledge as well as formal legal training, though such training is not required of a legal assistant in any of the United States. Paralegals are employed in all areas of law, including criminal and civil trials, real estate, and corporate law.
Despite the fact that no official training is required to become a paralegal, many do opt to become certified, certificated, or registered by completing a certificate program or associate's degree at a college or university. This is recommended. In fact, some schools have developed a four-year, bachelor's degree program for paralegals. Some legal assistants, however, rely less on formal legal training and more on experience and on-the-job learning.
What does a Paralegal do?
Legal assistants are generally assigned various tasks by the lawyer they are assisting. These tasks can vary widely depending on the type of law being practiced and the type of case. Some of the things paralegals may be asked to do are: locating and conducting interviews with witnesses, gathering legal or factual research, draft legal documents, conduct investigations, attend legal proceedings with an attorney, and summarize depositions and testimony. They are responsible for many other tasks besides these.
It is important to note there are certain things legal assistants are prohibited from doing by law. While the statutes governing the practice of law can vary from state to state, some tasks are restricted solely to licensed attorneys (with very minimal exceptions) in all fifty states. Paralegals may not: represent clients in court, set legal fees, give legal advice, or accept a case. These acts are all prohibited because they are considered practicing law, which can only be done by a licensed lawyer.
What skills or qualities do I need to become a Paralegal?
Legal assistants are usually expected to be organized and detailed. Being flexible and having the ability to multi-task are also very helpful. As stated previously, no specific education requirements are absolute but having a working knowledge of law and legal procedure is definitely useful. Of course, having an interest in legal matters is also an asset.
For paralegals looking for work in corporate America rather than a law office, it is useful to have general business knowledge as well.
How much does a Paralegal make?
Just like other professionals, the salary of a legal assistant will vary based on numerous factors such as, training completed, experience level, as well as the size and geographic location of their employer. In general, paralegals who are employed by large law firms or corporations in large metropolitan cities earn more than those wh...