What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals, also referred to as legal assistants, work with attorneys and other professionals to perform substantive legal work under the supervision of a licensed lawyer who is responsible for the legal assistant’s final work product. Paralegals typically have an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Some paralegals receive training through a legal assistant program. Many also receive a designation as a “certified” paralegal or legal assistant after going through a certification program offered by a sponsoring organization such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc., the National Federation of Paralegal Association, Inc., the National Association for Legal Professionals, or the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
To perform their duties effectively, paralegals need to be organized, have excellent written and verbal communication abilities, and must have sharp analytical skills. Moreover, paralegals, like attorneys, must be detail oriented, have the ability to multi-task, and handle complex tasks independently. At the same time, legal assistants have to perform well on a team. Paralegals should also be comfortable using technology as it has become essential and well-integrated in the often fast-past legal profession.
So what does a paralegal do? The paralegal job description varies widely from business to business and from practice area to practice area. Substantive legal work performed by paralegals includes:
- performing legal research and analysis
- drafting legal documents
- analyzing and organizing records and documents
- assisting with business transactions
- assisting during court appearances
- maintaining corporate records
- completing governmental and agency filings
- interviewing witnesses and clients
While paralegals do perform substantive legal work, they are not required to have law degrees and are not legally able to call themselves “attorneys” or practice law. In addition to substantive work, paralegals often perform clerical duties.
Students interested in learning more about becoming paralegals should contact a professional paralegal organization available in most states. A paralegal organization will also be able to direct students to a college or junior college that offers a paralegal program.