The work of a legal assistant can be an interesting, responsible, and stable type of employment, and involves several main career options. Paralegals have responsibilities that differ from those of a lawyer because they cannot represent clients in court. At the same time, paralegals can do technically sophisticated work, spending hours reading, compiling, and summarizing case law and then making recommendations to lawyers. Paralegals usually specialize in one area of law, which affects their powers and responsibilities. A conversation via e-mail with a practicing lawyer allowed me to expand my understanding of this profession, and I supplemented the research by using secondary sources. This report presents three main career options for paralegals employed in family law, criminal defense, and government.
Family Law Paralegal
Typically, a Family Law Paralegal requires a certificate or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. A certificate can be obtained faster than a diploma, but a higher education diploma offers significant advantages. Equally important, law firms may require work experience, which can be obtained, for example, through an internship program approved by the American Bar Association. Paralegals working in family law usually work outside the courtroom. Responsibilities include drafting and reviewing wills, partnerships, trusts, and documents that are primarily planned to avoid litigation.
Other topics of legal services include adoption documents, starting a new family, or divorce by consent of the parties or with legal confrontations, as well as protection in cases of domestic violence. Salaries for Family Law Paralegals range from $52,260 to $104,528, while the average salary is $64,787 (“Family Law Paralegal,” 2022). Factors affecting the salary – education, certificates, work experience, and additional skills. It is noteworthy that certificates will allow you to increase the level of payment by an amount that is up to 15% of the initial salary. Helpful certifications that will allow you to deepen your knowledge in the chosen field of work include the certification of an advanced specialty in law for the elderly, supported by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“Family Law Paralegal,” 2022). The National Association of Paralegals offers certifications in adoption and assisted reproduction, liquidation litigation, child custody, child support and visitation, property division and spousal support, and estate planning.
Family Law Paralegal responsibilities include close collaboration and communication with clients, which may require good professional communication skills. Many clients are going through stressful life stages and require a calm, balanced, friendly attitude. As a liaison, paralegals communicate with clients about the facts of their family cases, which can cause strong negative emotions due to the stressful nature of the issues. Paralegals are indirectly involved in litigation and are responsible for discovery and investigation, including investigating assets, setting hearing dates, and filing court briefs. This work is accompanied by informing the client about the progress of the case and any possible changes.
Criminal Defense Paralegal
Degrees required for a Criminal Defense Paralegal include a two-year associate degree in criminal justice or paralegal training with a specialization in criminal law. Many organizations will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from the applicant. Education involves in-depth knowledge of local, state, and federal laws (“Criminal Law Paralegal,” 2020). Criminal Defense Paralegals can complete an internship at the prosecutor’s office or a criminal defense law firm to help them make contacts. The American Bar Association also offers volunteer programs to gain additional experience.
Certification is not required but may be beneficial for paralegals who have exceptional abilities. American Alliance of Legal Assistants, the National Paralegal Association, and the National Paralegal Federation offer certification programs. Typical tasks for paralegals in this field include scheduling meetings for mediation arbitration and preparing documents. While Criminal Defense Lawyers spend part or all their time in court, Criminal Defense Paralegals assist attorneys in prosecution and criminal cases by providing them with knowledge of the law and court procedures. Paralegals cannot represent clients and do not have the authority of lawyers.
Paralegals are most often employed by private firms, and sometimes by the government and special interest groups, while employees at large law firms have more opportunities for advancement. According to salary.com, the salary range is from $42,868 to $74,841 per year (“Criminal Defense Paralegal Salary,” 2022). The Bureau of Statistics reports an average salary of $50,410 per year (“Criminal Law Paralegal,” 2020). Experience, certification, specialization, geographic region, and location all affect salary, while professionals with a two- or four-year degree have a better chance in the job market. The challenges faced by paralegals include the importance of accuracy and speed in setting up a client’s legal representation, conducting case investigations, and preparing legal arguments.
Paralegals must stay within ethical boundaries and follow the law during these investigations. Advocating the interests of the client is just as important as balancing the needs of the innocent client with the interests of justice, which can be difficult in cases where there is a third-party victim (“Challenges Criminal Defense Lawyers face in their career,” 2022). Equally important, some clients may withhold information that would be useful, and dealing with frustrated clients who refuse to cooperate is also difficult.
Government paralegals who want to succeed generally need a bachelor’s degree or certification. Equally important, such paralegals must demonstrate an understanding of city or federal cases (“Government Paralegal career,” 2022). Governmental Paralegals typically work to compile case law to prepare evidence for judicial review and prepare expert witnesses for administrative hearings. Paralegals in this field may also analyze legislation and its administration if they work in a legislative body.
Duties of Governmental Paralegal may differ depending on the branch of government – for example, an employee of the Ministry of Defense may work with official military correspondence, indictments, court documents, and orders for the appointment of investigators. The salary ranges from $46,000 for regular employees to $74,000-$87,000 per year for employees in more responsible areas such as the Department of Defense (“Government Paralegal career,” 2022). Career prospects include jobs at any level of government, or in any government organization. Examples of employers at the federal level are the US Department of Justice, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Defense. State-level work may involve specialization in agriculture, water supply, taxation, or insurance.
The challenges of the government paralegal’s profession include the need to perform the roles normally assumed by lawyers, which involves greater responsibility. Government Paralegals can provide advice on administrative law, represent the interests of clients in administrative courts, and communicate with the participants in the case.
Thus, three main career options for paralegals employed in family law, criminal defense, and government were presented. I am most interested in working in family law, as I have more skills than the job requires. In addition, this work is highly paid and there are ways to obtain additional education to obtain a narrower specialization. This means that by choosing this field I will be able to switch between the types of legal services and legal cases that appeal to me. Career expectations from working in federal organizations may be higher, but this kind of work seems too monotonous to me.
Criminal Law Paralegal: Career guide. (2020). Criminal Justice Degree School. Web.
Government Paralegal Career. (2022). Web.
Family Law Paralegal. (2022). Web.