Legal Assistant / Paralegal

How to Become a Legal Assistant or Paralegal
Paralegal Job Duties
Skills and Qualities of a Paralegal
Paralegal Salaries
Influential Professionals in this field
Leading Organizations for Legal Assistants & Paralegals
Top Cities for Paralegal Jobs
Other Careers of Interest

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 who work for smaller firms or companies in less populated regions.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a legal assistant working full-time was $43,040. This figure included any applicable bonuses. Additionally, the middle 50% earned between $33,920 and $54,690 with the top 10% earning more than $67,540 and the bottom 10% earning less than $27,450." These figures are all as of May 2006 which is the most recent information available.

As mentioned, many legal assistants, especially those working for large law firms, receive bonuses to help compensate for long hours (which are often the norm). They usually also receive benefit packages including, but not limited to, paid time off, sick leave, medical and dental insurance, 401(k) and others benefits.

Who are some influential professionals in this field?

There are several national paralegal associations that exist in the United States. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is the oldest. Founded in 1974, it is the parent to over fifty smaller associations that represent over 11.000 legal assistants. Their board of directors is comprised of several very influential people of note. For instance, the organization's president, Anita G. Haworth, RP has been a paralegal since 1989. She is the senior litigation paralegal at a law firm in Indiana. Another board member, Susan Ippoliti, is the president and CEO of a Rochester, NY company that provides "litigation support and paralegal services."

Due to the nature of their work as assistants, paralegals don't often wind up in the limelight. However, one very famous legal assistant that most people know is Erin Brockovich who, though hired as a "file clerk", took on the role of paralegal in her law firm's ground-breaking environmental case.

What are some leading organizations in this field?

As previously mentioned, the NFPA is a very important organization in the paralegal field. Their website is located at: Another important paralegal organization is the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) whose website is Both of these associations offer professional designations to paralegals who voluntarily meet certain criteria. Additionally, there are dozens of local and regional organizations for legal assistants all over the country.

What are the top cities for Paralegal jobs?

For those interested in a career as a paralegal, The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job openings will increase by 22% between 2006 and 2016. With that said, competition for these positions is expected as the number of people choosing this profession is also expected to increase.

Large industrial cities offer the most opportunities for people looking for work in the legal assistant field. At the top of the list in the United States is New York City followed by Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Atlanta. Rounding out the top ten are Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, and Houston. While these cities offer the most opportunities, there are generally jobs available in the paralegal field in all metropolitan areas throughout the nation.

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