The Paralegal Profession
Nature of the Work
Although lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often delegate many of their tasks to paralegals. In fact, paralegals—also called legal assistants—are continuing to assume new responsibilities in legal offices and perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, they are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be within the scope of practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court.
One of a paralegal's most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. It may be the responsibility of the paralegals to investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals may prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled. If attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials. Paralegals also organize and track files of all important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys.
In addition to this preparatory work, paralegals perform a number of other functions. For example, they help draft contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. They also may assist in preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates. Some paralegals coordinate the activities of other law office employees and maintain financial office records.
Computer software packages and the Internet are used to search legal literature stored in computer databases and on CD-ROM. In litigation involving many supporting documents, paralegals usually use computer databases to retrieve, organize, and index various materials. Imaging software allows paralegals to scan documents directly into a database, while billing programs help them to track hours billed to clients. Computer software packages also are used to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of various tax strategies for clients.
Paralegals usually are given more responsibilities and require less supervision as they gain work experience. Experienced paralegals who work in large law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies may supervise and delegate assignments to other paralegals and clerical staff. Advancement opportunities also include promotion to managerial and other law-related positions within the firm or corporate legal department. However, some paralegals find it easier to move to another law firm when seeking increased responsibility or advancement.
Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices. In these organizations, they can work in many different areas of the law, including litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. As the law becomes more complex, paralegals become more specialized. Within specialties, functions are often broken down further. For example, paralegals specializing in labor law may concentrate exclusively on employee benefits. In small and medium-size law firms, duties are often more general.
Paralegals and legal assistants held about 263,800 jobs in 2008. Private law firms employed 71 percent; most of the remainder worked for corporate legal departments and various levels of government. Within the Federal Government, the U.S. Department of Justice is the largest employer, followed by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A small number of paralegals own their own businesses and work as freelance legal assistants, contracting their services to attorneys or corporate legal departments.
Over the next decade, the number of jobs for paralegals is expected to double.
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of jobs in this occupation is projected to increase 27.3%. It is estimated that there will be 162 openings annually due to new positions and 87 openings annually from workers leaving this occupation.
In Washington, the average entry level wage for paralegals and legal assistants is $2,686 per month ($15.50 per hour). Half of all paralegals and legal assistants earn between $2,963 and $4,830 per month ($17.10 and $27.87 per hour).
Working for the State of Washington, a paralegal I with an associate degree from a paralegal program that has been approved by the American Bar Association earns from $3,377 to $4,429 per month.
Note: Wages for Washington State have been adjusted to reflect projections for 2009.
*Wage and Job Outlook Information for the local area were provided by WOIS/The Career Information System (http://www.wois.org/) Data Retrieved April 2010.
For more information please reference the United States Department of Labor at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm
We have provided you with information on the profession so that you can make an educated decision about joining the Paralegal program at TCC. If you are interested in finding out more please click "Next".