So you’ve heard a paralegal earns quite a decent salary and that the barrier to entry isn’t that high, compared to some other industries. However, how much do you really know about the role? In this article we explore what the role entails, the financial rewards plus much more. Set aside 10 to 20 minutes to read this article.+
OR – GO STRAIGHT TO PARALEGAL SALARY TABLE
The legal industry is a very large sector requiring the service of trained employees who are well versed in the way the legal system works. The industry consists of various divisions and niche expertise is required in each division to ensure an effective service is rendered.
Legal Professionals also have to deal with labor intensive tasks such as administration, analysis, operational and other business related functions.
Paralegals are expected to possess some unique skills and be very intelligent in order to effectively cope with the ambiguous and complex nature of the law. They should also have interpersonal skills in negotiating, resolving conflicts and so forth. Among many other things, a paralegal should be educated.
The Role of a Paralegal
Before we can understand and deep-dive into the role of a paralegal, it is essential that we understand who a paralegal actually is. The question is what is a paralegal? The definition of “Paralegal” varies by country and also by various legal organizations. There are slight differences in the definition of a paralegal and here we will take a look at each of them.
The National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA) defines a paralegal as a person who is qualified through education, training and work experience to perform substantial legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entities or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.
This definition reveals many things about paralegal service and role. According to NFPA, paralegals should maintain high ethical standards in the society. In May 1993, the NFPA created a Model Code which provides ethical standards and guidelines for paralegals’ professional conducts.
The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, corporations and other entities who performs specifically delegated substantial legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. This definition implies that the responsibility of a paralegal depends on the lawyer.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) defines paralegals as distinguishable persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, paralegals have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.
There are many of other definitions stating who a paralegal is. These definitions answer the question “what is a paralegal” and highlight the basic roles and characteristics of paralegals although each one of them has slight difference from the other. The roles of paralegals differ with country. In the United States for instance, paralegals are not authorized by the government or any other agency to render legal service as much as a lawyer would. Nonetheless, paralegals can be registered, certified or certificated in the United States
However, in the UK, a different situation presents itself. Most paralegals in the UK are represented by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) which is an Approved Regulator that provides code of conducts which the paralegal members must abide by. There are other paralegal bodies in the UK such as the Institute of Paralegals (IOP), National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) and so forth.
In addition, paralegal practice can be generally divided into four categories as shortly outlined:
Traditional Paralegal: This refers to a paralegal that works under a lawyer and is supervised by and accountable to the lawyer in a law firm environment. Many paralegals work as traditional paralegals.
Non-traditional Paralegal: This refers to a paralegal that works under a lawyer and is supervised and accountable to the lawyer outside the confinement of a law firm environment. In fact, many paralegals are in demand for non-traditional jobs by insurance companies, research firms and so forth.
Freelance Paralegal: Freelance paralegal can as well be referred to as a virtual or contract paralegal. He works as an independent contractor but also supervised by and accountable to a lawyer. These are self employed paralegals and provide their services directly to the attorney. Most attorneys prefer to hire freelance paralegals over full time paralegals.
Independent Paralegal: These paralegals provide services related to the law and which do not demand the service of an attorney. New paralegals usually function as independent paralegals.
As a matter of fact, paralegals perform virtually the same functions as an attorney except those functions which are generally prohibited by unauthorized practice of law statuses. Such functions prohibited by unauthorized practice of law statuses include setting legal fees, accepting clients, giving legal advice, representing clients in the court and a few others.
How to Study & Train for a Paralegal Role
The paralegal role requires specialized training and study. This study and training are requisite steps on how to become a paralegal. There are basically three study options for would-be paralegals or already practicing paralegals. These education options depend solely on your prior educations and are shortly outlined.
- Associate’s Degree: This is a 2 year paralegal program offered in community colleges. It involves elective courses as well as paralegal courses.
- Bachelor’s Degree is another requisite educational requirement for becoming a paralegal. It is a 4 year program offered by universities and colleges. In such studies, paralegal, general education and elective courses are combined. The Bachelor’s Degree program may be concluded with an internship which will allow you to have substantial work experiences on the legal field.
- You can also obtain paralegal certification if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. Some universities and community colleges offer such certifications. The program is usually intensive and can last for up to a year and may also complete an internship.
In some cases, you may have advantage over others if you have a technical understanding of a specific legal specialty. A person with background in nursing and health administration may be needed for a personal-injury law firm. You can even obtain master’s degree in paralegal studies; indeed there are several paths to becoming a paralegal.
Online Paralegal Programs
The internet has made the world a small global village making it easy for one to obtain certifications from schools abroad while residing and working in a different geographical area. Paralegal studies can now be completed via the internet. Many schools offer online paralegal programs and you can obtain associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree from such institutes.
Needless to say, there are many benefits involved in online paralegal programs. The benefits are shortly outlined:
- With such programs, students can complete their coursework from anywhere in the world provided they have internet access.
- You do not have to deny yourself of certain things and travel all the way to the college or university offering the paralegal program for the coursework.
- The length of time involved varies depending on the type of degree you want to earn.
Choosing The Best Paralegal School
The school you choose for paralegal programs matters greatly. Whether you want to study online or offline, you need to choose a good school for paralegal studies. Among many things, you should choose a school whose environment you can cope with. Here are some other things to put to mind when searching for a paralegal school whether online or offline.
- Whether you want online paralegal schools or offline schools, you need one that is accredited. This does not imply that you must attend one of the Ivy League schools. You can find some other schools that are accredited. The reason why this is important is because it will go a long way to boost our resume. The competition in the job market is very high and therefore your resume should appear the best in order to beat the trend in the competitive market.
- You also need to look into the job placement ratio at the school and make sure that the school has a high job placement with respect to graduates. Never accept a school with low or mediocre job placement.
- When searching for a school for paralegal studies, you should consider the cost. You need to choose a school whose cost is within your reach and avoid overly costly schools.
Earning a certificate in paralegal studies
Paralegal certification is required by employers and it increases your chance of getting a paralegal job. There are different kinds of certifications offered to students based on experiences, education and so forth. Such certifications could be Certified Paralegal (CP) and Certified Legal Assistant (CLA), American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP), Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination (PACE) and so forth.
Importance Qualities Required of Paralegals
Paralegals should possess certain qualities requisite for performing their functions.
- Communication skills: Communication skills are one of the most important skills required of a paralegal. This skill ensures that the paralegal would be able to present their research as well as related information to their supervisors.
- They should also possess interpersonal skills. This skill is important because of the nature of their jobs. Paralegal jobs require them to work with their clients and other professionals and thus they must be able to relate perfectly with them. Clients should feel comfortable with the paralegal as a result of their interpersonal skills.
- Computer Skills: Computer skills are very vital for litigation support and legal research. Thus, paralegals should possess the requisite skills for organizing and maintaining documents.
- Organizational skills are very vital for paralegals. This is because there is often a need to organize many cases and paralegals should be able to handle them appropriately. They should also be able to meet the deadlines set by their supervisors and for the cases in question.
- Paralegals should be able to conduct research and make investigations with respect to the cases they have at hand.
Paralegal Salary Based on Experience
The salary expectations of paralegals depends on previous experience, type of role and country. As of May 2012, the median annual wage of paralegals and legal assistance was $46, 990. A few specialized paralegals (about 10 percent) make over $75, 410.
|Federal government services excluding postal services||$62, 400|
|Finance and Insurance||$54, 670|
|Legal Service||$44, 950|
|Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals||$47, 000|
|State Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals||$42, 050|
The table above only outlines the average or median salary in these industries. However, it should be generally noted that the size of the organization or law firm and where it is located goes a long way to determine the earnings, wages or salaries of paralegals. Paralegals who work in large law firms earn more than those who work in small firms. In addition, paralegals who work in large cities earn more than those who work in smaller cities.
In general, the median annual salary for a paralegal in the United States is $46, 990 while those who work in the US Federal government can earn as much as $65, 000 per annum. Those working in state and local government agencies may earn between $45, 000 and $50, 000.
A different salary structure is however observed in the United Kingdom. While some paralegals, especially those in rural and suburban areas, may earn about £12, 000, top paralegals in large cities and firms may earn between £60, 000 and £80, 000. Freelance paralegals in the UK may also earn on hourly rate and their earnings could be between £60 and £260 in a day. These are specifically based on the qualification of the paralegal and/or his work experiences in the field.
Paralegal Trends in 2014
Technological advancement and the paralegal sector
Recent news highlights how technology has tremendously transformed and continues to transform the paralegal sector. Advancement in software technology has one of the most resounding impacts on the paralegal sector. As a result of these advancements, the paralegal profession is now growing so fast that paralegal schools both online and offline are now being established in different locations around the world to cater for the demand.
Many paralegal schools are registered under the umbrella of the American Association for Paralegal Education. At present the organization has over 450 members, enrolls up to 50, 000 students and has up to 200, 000 graduates. 260 of these schools have ABA approval. Owing to the immense advancement in the paralegal sector, the profession is widely becoming renowned in the public.
With the tremendous advancement in technology today, paralegals are now able to handle larger volumes of works easier. Many programs are already written and some are still being written in order to make paralegal work much easier and effective. As a matter of fact, technology has given a new definition to “what is a paralegal” as well as further extending and enhancing paralegal roles owing to the exceptional advancements.
The advancement in software technology allows for exceptional speed and accuracy. As a result, it is now easier for a paralegal to execute their tasks in the shortest possible time and also ensure that the desired quality is achieved. This has gone a long way to make paralegal work more efficient than it was a few years ago.
In addition, with the immense advancement over the internet, most law libraries in law firms are now discarding their books in favor of the immense resources available over the internet. This brings to mind many benefits as it allows the materials to be read in real time and also ensure that recent or up-to-date materials are made available in the libraries.
The immense demand for paralegal roles
Paralegal roles are now one of the most highly sought jobs in the law sector. Most law firms now receive up to 100 and above applications for every paralegal vacancy. This is because law graduates have become desperate for work and because law firms seek lower cost staff, everybody wants to work as a paralegal.
The Stephen James Partnership (SJP), a recruitment firm, found through research that many LPC graduates now compete for a few training contracts. According to the firm, even though that the demand for paralegals would increase in the next four years by 20%, it is still not enough to meet up with the competition in the field. People competing for the paralegal role are highly academically gifted law graduates who take up paralegal roles with the hope that one day they will get their desired training contracts. In many cases, these graduates end up being paralegals for life after having series of rejections on the training contracts.
The major reason for this is that law firms now want to lower their expenditures and costs. This is mostly because clients now put downward cost pressure on law firms and therefore most law firms would rather employ paralegals instead of employing the more expensive lawyers. Most firms now employ LPC graduates with the intention of taking advantage of the highly capable people who want to impress their bosses and show how capable they are.
New Training Shortcuts for Paralegals
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Training Regulations of 2014 which replaced the 2011 regulations outlined that paralegals who have passed a legal practice course (LPC) can now qualify as solicitors without completing the formal training contract.
On July 2014, the SRA stated in a publication that exemptions to the training contract may be granted to an LPC graduate who is able to demonstrate work-based learning and other assessed learning through equivalent means of training. According to the SRA director of policy, this change is highlights a trend towards flexibility to qualification. He stated that the SRA has been less prescriptive about educational inputs and has focused on outcomes. However, many people truly question whether paralegals would be able to display the same depth of learning provided in the formal training contract.
Paralegal Employment Tips
Curriculum vitae, also known as resume, is the traditional method for job application. It is widely used in the legal profession as well as in other professions. You need to have an up-to-date copy of your CV for any job application. Your CV should be well written and structured. To do this, you need to know the requisite CV hints and tips for the job application. CVs are usually accompanied by a cover letter in a job application. Thus you should make sure you write the cover letter as well and send it alongside with your curriculum vitae.
Here are some tips to put to mind when writing a CV
The CV should be concise. Length is very important because no hiring manager would want to spend all of his time on one CV.
Make your CV easy to read. Hiring managers usually allot one minute or two for a CV. Your CV might be thrown to the trashcan if it is not easy to read.
Use key selling points in your CV in order to draw the attention of your readers. Also use headings, phrasing and proper positioning to make your CV interesting to read.
Remember you are applying for a paralegal role and therefore you should be professional. Make sure every aspect of the CV portrays professionalism. Therefore, you should avoid photos, artwork, colored fonts and every form of gimmicks in your CV.
Every aspect of the law professional places so much emphasis on the need for excellent communication skills. Thus, it is important to get your grammar and spelling right in your CV or resume. Make sure that every spelling, grammatical and clerical errors are avoided. Also use capital letters and small letters in appropriate places in your applications.
When writing your CV, you need to think of the abilities and skills your employers may be looking out for. Such abilities like teamwork, attention to details, organizational skills, problem solving, analytical skills and so forth should be highlighted in your CV. It is not enough to say that you possess such abilities; in fact, most hiring managers are tired of hiring such stories. You need to show your hiring managers that you possess the abilities rather than merely saying it. You can do this by showcasing your accomplishments in your CV.
The Cover Letter
Your cover letter is not intended to repeat your resume but to rather explain it. Just like your resume, your cover letter should be concise and direct to the point. You should make your cover letter concise and interesting in order for the hiring manager to read them.
In your cover letter, you should be able to show your hiring manager that you are the right candidate for the job. To do this, you need to know cover letter and CV hints and tips. In addition, your cover letter, just like your resume, should be highly professional, absolutely error free and well formatted.
It is important to be careful with your choice of fonts in your cover letter. Make sure that your font size and style are carefully chosen. Use a maximum of two types of fonts in your cover letter, one in your heading and the other in the body. If you are emailing your cover letter, ensure that you send it in a format that can be easily opened in every computer. Formats like PDF and doc files may be the best for your cover letters.
Your cover letter should be both persuasive and polite. It should be persuasive in order to convince your hiring manager that you are the right candidate for the paralegal role and it should be polite in order not to showcase any iota of arrogance. With the intense demand for paralegal roles today, you need to ensure that your cover letter is better than those of other job seekers in order to have an edge over them and win the job. In addition, you should make sure that your cover letter showcases your personality. It should be very personal in order for it not to sound like one written by an automaton.
Preparing for the Interview
The goal of every job seeker is to make it to the interview. This explains why you should apply the necessary resume and cover letter writing tips. However, making it to the interview does not imply that you have won the job. You need to pass the interview to be selected for the job. Thus, there are some important tips to put to mind when preparing for an interview. Most importantly, you should know the typical interview questions for paralegals in order to get the best result.
– Before your interview, you should take time and research the organization. You need to find out where you will be interviewed and everything about the organization. It is important to make the necessary research as a step of preparation for the interview.
– It is also important to know typical interview questions and carefully go through them as well as their answers before the interview. You also need to prepare questions yourself. In most interviews, the interviewers may ask you whether you have some questions to ask. Preparing a list of questions can help you immensely.
– Make sure you rehearse before the interview. Rehearse how you will answer your questions and try to demonstrate them before a friend or even before a mirror.
– Your appearance matters greatly in an interview. You need to look as wonderful as possible because it determines how your employers will address you.
– In conclusion, you should plan your arrival and ensure you do not arrive late. Also get a good night sleep for optimal performance.
Paralegals can work in a many organizations. If you are looking for where to find paralegal jobs, you should note that they can work in solicitors’ offices, corporate legal offices, non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, firms and industries and so forth. The first step in applying for job is to find out where to find paralegal jobs. You can get better information on where to find paralegal jobs in your region over the internet. The CV, cover letter and interview tips mentioned above will help you to win the job.
Certifications for a Paralegal
There are different certifications available for a paralegal. The certification is important in job search as it will give you an edge over others.
Two paralegal certificates including Certified Paralegal (CP) and Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) are offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). The certification is given after the completion of a 2 day test. The certification is only offered to those who have both the educational requirements and experiences required for it.
American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) is another certification which is offered by the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI). There are many things required for this certification. This includes at least five years of work experiences as well as educational experiences among other qualifications. These qualifications will help you to meet the demands for the test required for the certification.
The Registered Paralegal (RP) designation is another certification and it is offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). To get this certification, you need to take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination (PACE) and you are required to have about 2 years of work experiences before you can take the examination.
Your chance of getting work as a paralegal increases with a certification but you must not have to earn a certification to obtain a paralegal job.
There is increasing demand for paralegals in companies, organizations and so forth. The employment data for paralegals and legal assistants in 2012 is 277, 000 and it is projected to increase by 17% in 2022 to 323, 300. This shows that the growth in the paralegal sector is above average. With entry level education of Associate’s degree, you can become a paralegal.