START A CAREER AS A PARALEGAL

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Does a Paralegal Do? ............................................................................................2 Make a Change to a Stable Career..................................................................................3 Test the Legal Waters before Diving In..........................................................................4 Why Earn a Paralegal Certificate?..................................................................................4 Conclusion ......................................................................................................................5 About The College Network ..........................................................................................6 Sources............................................................................................................................6

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What Does a Paralegal Do? For a long time, the paralegal arena has remained a strong source of job opportunities, and it is expected to grow in the coming years. First appearing in the mid1960s, more than two-thirds of all lawyers use paralegals and that number is on the rise. i Over the years, the profession has gained great respect and become a cornerstone of the legal profession as paralegals continue to assume new responsibilities. Paralegals are able to work in many areas of the law and in all types of organizations, from law firms to corporate legal departments to various government offices. While paralegals perform different jobs in each position, there are tasks that almost all paralegals perform. One of a paralegal’s most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials and corporate meetings. Paralegals might investigate the facts of cases and ensure all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials relevant to assigned cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals may prepare written reports that attorneys use when determining how cases should be handled. ii According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “Paralegals enhance the ability of law firms to provide more pro bono legal services just as they do paid services.” iii A well-trained paralegal can make a law firm more profitable as well as contribute to the good of a community. The ABA says that paralegals should have excellent organizational skills and be detail-minded and able to multitask. Good oral and written communication skills are a must. And, of course, a paralegal should have an interest in the law and empathy for clients. iv

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Paralegals use technology to ensure that they do their jobs well. Software programs like PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), LiveNote (a transcript and deposition management tool), CaseMap (a case analysis tool), and Westlaw (a legal research information system) all provide paralegals with valuable information about cases handled by their firms, helping paralegals provide lawyers with up-to-date, thorough reports. Training in these software tools will make paralegals more marketable.

Make a Change to a Stable Career Earning a paralegal certificate is also a great way to make a secure career change. While other high-earning jobs require years of education, students can obtain a paralegal certificate in a matter of weeks and begin looking for work at law firms, government agencies and corporations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than average for all occupations. Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers.” v While employers continue to cut legal costs, paralegals are given the opportunity to branch into more challenging duties. “Paralegals are performing a wider variety of duties, making them more useful to the business.” vi This makes working as a paralegal a stable career that will continue to grow, even with economic hardships. The mean annual salary for paralegals in May 2009 was $50,080, with the top ten percent earning a mean annual wage of $75,700. vii Becoming a paralegal allows a worker to obtain a career with a good salary without breaking the bank on education.

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Test the Legal Waters before Diving In One reason to earn a paralegal certificate may be to test the legal waters before deciding to attend law school. Since paralegals work so closely with lawyers and their cases, the career is a great way for people to see if they like the field before investing time and money into a law degree. Many tasks normally performed by lawyers may be delegated to paralegals… three specific tasks that paralegals may perform under lawyer supervision: factual investigation and research, legal research, and the preparation of legal documents. Various states delineate more specific tasks in their guidelines including attending client conferences, corresponding with and obtaining information from clients, witnessing the execution of documents, preparing transmittal letters, and maintaining estate/guardianship trust accounts. viii Performing these tasks not only helps an individual learn if he or she wants to pursue a legal career but it also prepares the worker for the rigors of law school. Having experience in law will give students a head start when beginning their legal education.

Why Earn a Paralegal Certificate? A paralegal certificate is not a requirement for most paralegal jobs, but it does make you a more marketable candidate in the competitive field. “Despite projected much faster than average employment growth, competition for jobs is expected to continue as many people seek to go into this profession; experienced, formally trained paralegals should have the best employment opportunities.” ix Currently, paralegal education is not standardized. However, to secure higher paying jobs in more competitive markets, some form of education is usually needed. A

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paralegal certificate makes you stand out in the job market and learn the legal and technological skills required to be a successful paralegal. “Private firms that hire paralegals often look for individuals with backgrounds in law or political science to assist with trial preparation and research.” x Since the legal profession and technology is always changing, a paralegal certificate can also help current paralegals brush up on their skills and contribute more at work.

Conclusion Those choosing to become paralegals are in a prime position for career growth, stability, a competitive salary and first-hand legal experience. Paralegals with formal education have more opportunities in the field and can be more valuable to their companies. Without well-trained paralegals, legal departments and law firms would be less efficient and unable to perform as many tasks as paralegals allow them to. This makes paralegals important in the legal community. Those who are already paralegals can make themselves more valuable by updating their education with a certificate program. The College Network provides a way for busy adults to earn a paralegal certificate through a 14-week program from Boston University that helps prepare students for careers as paralegals. Through training in legal research, legal writing and reasoning, litigation and various types of law, as well as through access to technology that paralegals use on the job and a faculty composed of practicing attorneys, Boston University’s paralegal certificate program prepares a learner to be successful in the legal field.

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About The College Network, Inc. The College Network partners with established universities to offer associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs as well as professional certificates entirely through distance learning. Since 1992, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of busy adults advance their education and training while maintaining a good work/life balance. The College Network strives to provide high-quality education that can be completed conveniently and at an affordable price. Call us at 1-866-249-2131 or visit us at www.collegenetwork.com for more information about the available programs.

Sources
i

A Brief History of The Paralegal Profession , Michigan Bar Journal, July 2007, http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article1177.pdf

ii

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010 -11 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm Information for Lawyers: How Paralegals Can Improve Your Practice, American Bar Association, http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/paralegals/lawyers.html Ibid. http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/paralegals/lawyers.html Ibid. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm Ibid. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm

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vii

Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2009 http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/eoes232011.htm ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services, American Bar Association, 2004

viii

ix

Ibid. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm

x

What’s the Difference Between a Paralegal and a Legal Assistant?, Career Toolkits, http://www.careertoolkits.com/paralegal/paralegal-legal-assistant.html

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