Exploring this Job
If you are interested in a career as a paralegal, but you are not positive yet, do not worry. There are several ways you can explore the career of a paralegal. Colleges, universities, and technical schools have a wealth of information available for the asking.
Look for summer or part-time employment as a secretary or in the mailroom of a law firm to get an idea of the nature of the work. If paid positions are not available, offer yourself as a volunteer to the law offices in town. Ask your guidance counselor to help you set up a volunteer/internship agreement with a lawyer.
Talk to your history or government teacher about organizing a trip to a lawyer's office and a courthouse. Ask your teacher to set aside time for you to talk to paralegals working there and to their supervising attorneys.
Searching the World Wide Web for information on student organizations that are affiliated with the legal profession is another option.
Although the lawyer assumes responsibility for the paralegal's work, the paralegal may take on all the duties of the lawyer except for setting fees, appearing in court, accepting cases, and giving legal advice.
Paralegals spend much of their time researching laws and previous cases and compiling facts to help lawyers prepare for trial. Paralegals often interview witnesses as part of their research as well. After analyzing the laws and facts that have been compiled for a particular client, the paralegal often writes a report that the lawyer may use to determine how to proceed with the case. If a case is brought to trial, the paralegal helps prepare legal arguments and draft pleadings to be filed in court. They also organize and store files and correspondence related to cases.
Not all paralegal work centers on trials. Many paralegals work for corporations, agencies, schools, and financial institutions. Corporate paralegals create and maintain contracts, mortgages, affidavits, and other documents. They assist with business matters, such as shareholder agreements, contracts, and employee benefit plans. Another important part of a corporate paralegal's job is to stay on top of new laws and regulations to make sure the company is operating within those parameters.
Some paralegals work for the government. They may prepare complaints or talk to employers to find out why health or safety standards are not being met. They often analyze legal documents, collect evidence for hearings, and prepare explanatory material on various laws for use by the public. For example, a court administrator paralegal is in charge of keeping the courthouse functioning; tasks include monitoring personnel, handling the case load for the court, and general administration.
Other paralegals are involved in community or public service work. They may help specific groups, such as poor or elderly members of the community. They may file forms, research laws, and prepare documents. They may represent clients at hearings, although they may not appear in court on behalf of a client.
Many paralegals work for large law firms, agencies, and corporations and specialize in a particular area of law. Some work for smaller firms and have a general knowledge of many areas of law.