Choosing a Career in the Paralegal Industry

Paralegals are needed in almost all aspects of the legal industry. Law firms employ the majority of paralegals, but other companies and organizations also need the help of paralegals in their legal departments. Choosing a career path should not be taken lightly, and knowing about all of the employment paths available can help make the decision easier.

There are Many Options for Paralegals
There are many possible career paths for paralegals, and the specific job pursued will vary depending on the interests and goals of the individual paralegal. The paralegal industry is vast, and job opportunities are available in many different realms. The four most common types of paralegal job are in one of the following broad sectors: corporate, law firm, government, and freelance/contract.

Corporate Paralegals
Corporate paralegals work either in a corporation’s legal department or for a law firm that has a business or corporate law department. The job duties of a corporate paralegal are almost always transactional in nature. In other words, corporate paralegals do not usually assist attorneys who are preparing for litigation, or trials. The bulk of the responsibilities for corporate paralegals revolve around the development and continuance of different types of companies - including entities, mergers, acquisitions, LLCs, and various types of business partnerships.

Organization and the ability to prepare documents is the key to success for corporate paralegals. They are typically responsible for drafting legal documents, taking minutes at meetings, and helping attorneys prepare for corporate meetings. They may also work closely with a corporation’s human resources department to help draft documents related to employee benefits and employment contracts.

Law Firm Paralegals
Depending on the specialty of the law firm for which they work, paralegals have varying job responsibilities. For example, a paralegal working for a firm specializing in criminal law will have vastly different job duties from a paralegal working for a firm specializing in bankruptcy.

Regardless of the type of law firm, paralegals working in this environment are responsible for conducting legal research and drafting legal correspondence, documents and reports. Also, they assist attorneys in preparing for trials, they keep client files organized and current, they gather documents for depositions, and they file motions and other types of court documents with the courts. There are a few things that paralegals working in a law firm cannot do: they cannot give legal advice to clients, they cannot set fees for legal services, and they cannot represent clients in court in place of an attorney.

Government Paralegals
Paralegals are needed in local, state, and federal governmental offices to assist attorneys who work for the government. They typically help attorneys who are preparing to prosecute cases, they conduct legal research, and they interview witnesses. According to the website, the largest two employers of government paralegals are the United States Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration.

Many of the job responsibilities of government-employed paralegals are similar to those of paralegals working in law firms. However, government employees often enjoy more comprehensive benefits packages and a higher level of job security.

Freelance Paralegals
Freelance paralegals essentially run their own businesses. They contract themselves to attorneys, law firms, or others in need of paralegal help. They do not become employees of their clients. Rather, they set their own hourly rate or flat fee, and they complete work on an as-needed basis. Freelance paralegals are often referred to as “independent paralegals” or “contract paralegals.” Some of the work they complete includes preparing legal documents or forms, and other legal-related clerical duties.

Freelance paralegals generally do not work under the supervision of an attorney, and they must have a significant amount of practical experience before they can work independently. Freelance paralegals are often scrutinized by regulation agencies, and the the most important compliance issue for freelance paralegals is the prohibition of the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

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