The paralegal job description can depend on what area of law the paralegal specializes in, but ultimately, they will perform delegated legal work for attorneys. Paralegals perform a wide range of tasks including organizing and maintaining files, conducting research and drafting documents. Most paralegals are employed by legal departments in major corporations, government agencies, and law firms. However, they can also find employment working for large organizations.
Basic Duties of the Paralegal
Paralegal services can include helping lawyers collect and prepare documents during a trial, conduct research on regulations, laws, and legal articles, organize legal information and enter case-related information into databases.
The paralegal will help an attorney prepare for corporate meetings, hearings, and trials. Depending on the size of the firm or organization, duties can vary, especially when it comes to small firms.
Often, this legal professional doesn’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to their role in a firm. But you may be surprised to learn that even top attorneys will heavily depend on a good paralegal. In fact, the paralegal will prepare written reports that will help the attorney to determine how to handle a particular case. If the attorney decides to file a lawsuit, the paralegal can help prepare legal arguments, and draft documents that will be filed with the court.
Most paralegals will not work on a case from the beginning to the end. Instead, they’ll work on a certain phase of the case. As an example, the litigation paralegal may only conduct research, organize evidence for hearings, or maintain reference files. This type of paralegal doesn’t attend a trial often, but they might prepare trial documents or settlement agreements.
These days, many law firms use computer software to manage documents and prepare for trial. The paralegal will use a software program to index documents, draft documents, or prepare a presentation.
Additionally, a paralegal must be familiar with electronic database management and stay on top of software programs that are currently used to prepare for trials or programs used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery involves all types of electronic materials that relate to a trial including accounting databases, emails, data, websites, and documents.
By specializing in a specific area or a variety of areas, the paralegal is able to assume more responsibility. Some of these areas include employee benefits, criminal law, family law, and personal injury. A paralegal with several years of experience can also qualify for a supervisory role in which they oversee a team of paralegals.
You’ll find paralegals working in all types of organizations, but the majority will work in law firms or government agencies. They often work on a full-time basis; however, temporary part-time employment is available during busy times of the year. The paralegal who works in a law firm will usually have to work several hours of overtime in order to meet deadlines. While on occasion the paralegal may be required to travel in order to gather information, they usually spend most of their time in law libraries and offices.
In most cases, regardless of the place of employment, the schedule for the new paralegal is often unpredictable. In the beginning of your career you must be prepared to be very flexible in terms of what hours you’re able to work and how much overtime you’re willing to do.
Typical Job Challenges
Working in this field you’ll quickly find that there is an overwhelming amount of filing and documentation required. Because of this, being exceptionally organized can make your job much easier. A paralegal must also be efficient and detail-oriented. Because their duties can greatly vary based on the supervising attorney or the size of a firm, the paralegal needs to be very adaptable to situations and enjoy the organizational aspect of the position.
Presentations and Research
One of the most important duties of the paralegal is assisting attorneys during a trial. This also includes closings and hearings. A big part of their work during this time will consist of gathering relevant information for a case and conducting research. In terms of research, the paralegal must check out the facts of the case and identify legal articles, judicial decisions, and appropriate laws that are relevant to each case. After information has been gathered, the paralegal must analyze it and prepare a written report for the attorney to use.
Another important part of being a paralegal is interviewing potential clients. The paralegal doesn’t usually conduct the initial interview. Instead, they will take notes and conduct subsequent interviews with witnesses and clients. Once a witness has been located and interviewed, the paralegal must prepare a memo that summarizes the testimony, which will later be read by the attorney.
Creating Legal Documents
Several hours a day will be devoted to drafting legal documents. This usually includes pleadings and correspondence such as legal briefs, pretrial orders, deposition notices, interrogatories, subpoenas, and complaints. Training in written communication is an essential part of paralegal training.
Office Administration Duties
Aside from the duties we have already covered, the paralegal is also expected to handle basic administrative tasks including organizing and maintaining reference files, answering the phone and taking messages, and filing papers. Paralegals are usually in charge of maintaining the attorney’s schedule and appointments. Another portion of their day will be devoted to scheduling depositions, meetings, hearings, and interviews.
Additionally, the paralegal is usually present with the attorney during will executions, depositions, trials, administrative hearings, real estate closings, and court hearings.