What Do Paralegals Do?
The primary role of a paralegal is to assist one or more attorneys in the preparation of a civil or criminal case. Paralegals perform many of the same functions as an attorney, with the exception of actually presenting a case at trial.
Find Paralegal Programs in Your State:
Paralegals in the Criminal Justice System
The paralegal’s role in a criminal case ultimately depends on whether he or she is working to assist the defense or the prosecution. From a defense standpoint, paralegals may be responsible for locating witnesses and taking their statements, assisting defense attorneys in developing alternate theories of the crime, uncovering evidence that might prove the defendant’s innocence, or preparing motions for trial. When assisting the prosecution, a top priority for the paralegal is helping to find evidence that would prove the guilt of the accused. Paralegals may also conduct witness interviews, prepare evidentiary exhibits for trial, file motions on the attorney’s behalf, organize case files, and check facts to eliminate the possibility of errors.
Becoming a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal begins with obtaining the appropriate degree. The majority of paralegal degrees are offered at the associate’s level, although there are schools that offer bachelor’s and even master’s degree programs in paralegal studies. If you already have a bachelor’s degree or you’re working toward a criminal justice degree, you also have the option of obtaining a paralegal certificate. The coursework for a degree in paralegal studies is comprehensive and typically covers criminal law as well as real estate law, civil litigation, and bankruptcy law. You’ll also need to complete courses in legal research and writing as well as law office management and administration. In addition to earning a paralegal degree or certificate, certain states require you to obtain certification or licensure from the state bar association. The American Bar Association offers additional information on the state certification requirements for paralegals.
Career Outlook for Paralegals
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of paralegals is expected to increase by 18 percent through 2020. Law firms are currently the largest employer of paralegals and this trend should continue. The BLS does note that corporations and companies may increase their hiring of paralegals as a cost-effective alternative to hiring attorneys to work in their legal departments. In terms of the salary you can expect to earn as a paralegal, the median annual wage as of 2010 was $46,680 according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The lowest 10 percent of paralegals earned less than $29,460 while the top 10 percent earned more than $74,870 per year. Generally, the larger the employer, the higher the wages you can expect.