Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Career, Salary and Education Information

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  • Litigation Paralegal - The Law Office of Shelsby & Leoni - Wilmington, DE

    Must have good people skills and writing

  • Paralegal - Estate & Trust - JurisTemps - Saint Louis, MO

    Management of probate estate process and procedures • Preparation of trust and estate accountings • Trust administration • Preparation of

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Top 3 Legal Assistant Jobs

  • Legal Assistant/Paralegal - Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys - Baton Rouge, LA

    We have offices in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport, Hammond, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Ascension Parish, and Livingston Parish. Our mission is to

  • Legal Assistant - Starfield & Smith, PC - Fort Washington, PA

    Accomplishes organization goals by

  • Business Legal Assistant/Secretary - Dellenbach Venture Counsel - Fairfield, CA

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What Paralegals and Legal Assistants Do[About this section] [To Top]

Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Duties of Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:

  • Investigate and gather the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
  • Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
  • Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings.

Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.

Paralegals' specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work. The following are examples of types of paralegals and legal assistants:

Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies' annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.

Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.

Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.

Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.

In small firms, paralegals' duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.

In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.

Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal's work is often billed to the client.

Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.

Work Environment for Paralegals and Legal Assistants[About this section] [To Top]

Paralegals and legal assistants hold about 285,600 jobs. The largest employers of paralegals and legal assistants are as follows:

Legal services 73%
Federal government 5
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 5
Finance and insurance 3
State government, excluding education and hospitals 3

Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.

Paralegals do most of their work in offices. Occasionally, they may travel to gather information, collect and review documents, accompany attorneys to depositions or trials, and do other tasks.

Some of the work can be fast-paced, and paralegals must be able to work on multiple projects under tight deadlines.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Work Schedules

Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time. Some may work more than 40 hours per week in order to meet deadlines.

How to Become a Paralegal and Legal Assistant[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Paralegals and Legal Assistants near you!

Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Education for Paralegals and Legal Assistants

There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. A common path is for candidates to earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution.

However, many employers may prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor's degree. Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies, applicants will typically have a bachelor's degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in legal or paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.

Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program.

Some national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria.

Important Qualities for Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.

Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.

Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.

Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.

Research skills. Paralegals gather facts of the case and research information on relevant laws and regulations to prepare drafts of legal documents for attorneys and help them prepare for a case.

Paralegal and Legal Assistant Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants is $49,500. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,260.

The median annual wages for paralegals and legal assistants in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Federal government $64,650
Finance and insurance 59,570
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 48,920
Legal services 47,450
State government, excluding education and hospitals 46,810

Most paralegals and legal assistants work full time. Some may work more than 40 hours per week in order to meet deadlines.

Job Outlook for Paralegals and Legal Assistants[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

As law firms try to increase the efficiency of legal services and reduce their costs, they are expected to hire more paralegals and legal assistants. In these cases, paralegals and legal assistants can take on a "hybrid" role within the firm, performing not only traditional paralegal duties but also some of the tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries or other legal support workers.

Law firms also are attempting to reduce billing costs as clients push for less expensive legal services. Due to their lower billing rates to clients, paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers, performing a wide variety of tasks once done by entry-level lawyers. This should cause an increase in demand for paralegals and legal assistants.

Although law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments to cut costs. For many companies, the high cost of outside counsel makes it more economical to have an in-house legal department. This will lead to an increase in the demand for legal workers in a variety of settings, such as finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.

See all legal jobs.

Job Prospects for Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Due to the rise of electronic discovery, formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Paralegals and legal assistants 285,600 327,400 15 41,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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