The paralegal profession offers exciting and challenging opportunities for individuals who want a career but do not want to accumulate significant student loan debt or spend seven years in post-secondary studies. Most paralegals hold an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, a degree which can be obtained through online courses.
Paralegals serve as the attorney’s “right-hand,” assisting him or her in completing a case. Paralegals and legal assistants investigate the facts of the case, organizing and presenting the information to the attorney preparing for trial. They often conduct legal research on relevant laws, regulations and legal articles and write reports on these issues to help the attorney prepare for trial. In preparation of trial, paralegals will collect “discovery” for the attorney, meaning affidavits and formal statements as well as documents to be used as evidence. Lastly, these professionals will draft documents and correspondence for cases, including contracts and mortgages.
Law firms are using technology and current computer software for managing case documents and preparing for trial so acquiring the proper training will make a candidate stand out. When selecting online courses for earning a paralegal associates degree or certificate, courses on electronic discovery, database management and online legal research are encouraged. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials that are related to a case, including emails, data, documents, and information acquired from social media and other websites.
Responsibilities of a paralegal will vary depending on the size of the law office. In smaller firms, paralegals will handle a larger variety of tasks. Many attorneys will only utilize the services of one paralegal, so he or she will handle that attorney’s entire caseload. Working in a smaller firm will also mean that the practice will be more general in nature, meaning the attorney will handle a wide variety of cases from personal injury to family law. In larger firms, paralegals will be assigned to a particular department and often to a particular part of a case. For example, one paralegal may be assigned to document preparation while another is assigned solely to correspondence and contact with clients. Prospective employers will inform paralegal candidates about the type of employment they are seeking.
Paralegal careers are versatile and can be fast-paced and intellectually challenging. If someone is looking for a career and more than just a job, then obtaining a paralegal associates or certificate may be the right path for them.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited December 23, 2013).
Online paralegal degree