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and Legal Assistants
Nature of the Work | Working Conditions | Employment | Training,
Other Qualifications, and Advancement | Job Outlook | Earnings |
Related Occupations | Sources of Additional Information
While some paralegals train on the job, employers increasingly prefer
graduates of postsecondary paralegal education programs, especially
graduates of 4-year paralegal programs or college graduates who
have completed paralegal certificate programs.
Paralegals are projected to grow faster than average, as they increasingly
perform many legal tasks formerly carried out by lawyers.
Stiff competition is expected, as the number of graduates of paralegal
training programs and others seeking to enter the profession outpaces
of the Work
lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often
delegate many of their tasks to paralegals. In fact, paralegalsalso
called legal assistantscontinue to assume a growing range
of tasks in the Nation's legal offices and perform many of the same
tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, they are still explicitly prohibited
from carrying out duties which are considered to be the practice
of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting
cases in court.
of a paralegal's most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare
for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals
investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information
is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions,
legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned
cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals
may prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how
cases should be handled. Should attorneys decide to file lawsuits
on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments,
draft pleadings and motions to be filed with the court, obtain affidavits,
and assist attorneys during trials. Paralegals also organize and
track files of all important case documents and make them available
and easily accessible to attorneys.
addition to this preparatory work, paralegals also perform a number
of other vital functions. For example, they help draft contracts,
mortgages, separation agreements, and trust instruments. They also
may assist in preparing tax returns and planning estates. Some paralegals
coordinate the activities of other law office employees and maintain
financial office records. Various additional tasks may differ, depending
on the employer.
are found in all types of organizations, but most are employed by
law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices.
In these organizations, they may work in all areas of the law, including
litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee
benefits, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration,
family law, and real estate. Within specialties, functions often
are broken down further so that paralegals may deal with a specific
area. For example, paralegals specializing in labor law may deal
exclusively with employee benefits.
duties of paralegals also differ widely based on the type of organization
in which they are employed. Paralegals who work for corporations
often assist attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements,
stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help
prepare and file annual financial reports, maintain corporate minute
books and resolutions, and secure loans for the corporation. Paralegals
often monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the
corporation operates within the law.
duties of paralegals who work in the public sector usually vary
within each agency. In general, they analyze legal material for
internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for attorneys,
and collect and analyze evidence for agency hearings. They may then
prepare informative or explanatory material on laws, agency regulations,
and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public.
Paralegals employed in community legal-service projects help the
poor, the aged, and others in need of legal assistance. They file
forms, conduct research, prepare documents, and when authorized
by law, may represent clients at administrative hearings.
in small and medium-sized law firms usually perform a variety of
duties that require a general knowledge of the law. For example,
they may research judicial decisions on improper police arrests
or help prepare a mortgage contract. Paralegals employed by large
law firms, government agencies, and corporations, however, are more
likely to specialize in one aspect of the law.
use and technical knowledge has become essential to paralegal work..
Computer software packages and the Internet are increasingly used
to search legal literature stored in computer databases and on CD-ROM.
In litigation involving many supporting documents, paralegals may
use computer databases to retrieve, organize, and index various
materials. Imaging software allows paralegals to scan documents
directly into a database, while billing programs help them to track
hours billed to clients. Computer software packages also may be
used to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of
possible tax strategies for clients.
Paralegals employed by corporations and government usually work
a standard 40-hour week. Although most paralegals work year round,
some are temporarily employed during busy times of the year, then
released when the workload diminishes. Paralegals who work for law
firms sometimes work very long hours when they are under pressure
to meet deadlines. Some law firms reward such loyalty with bonuses
and additional time off.
workers handle many routine assignments, particularly when they
are inexperienced. As they gain experience, paralegals usually assume
more varied tasks with additional responsibility. Paralegals do
most of their work at desks in offices and law libraries. Occasionally,
they travel to gather information and perform other duties.
Paralegals and legal assistants held about 188,000 jobs in 2000.
Private law firms employed the vast majority; most of the remainder
worked for corporate legal departments and various levels of government.
Within the Federal Government, the U.S. Department of Justice is
the largest employer, followed by the U.S. Departments of Treasury
and Defense, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Other
employers include State and local governments, publicly funded legal-service
centers, banks, real estate development companies, and insurance
companies. A small number of paralegals own their own businesses
and work as freelance legal assistants, contracting their services
to attorneys or corporate legal departments.
Other Qualifications, and Advancement
are several ways to become a paralegal. Employers usually require
formal paralegal training obtained through associate or bachelor's
degree programs or through a certification program. Increasingly,
employers prefer graduates of 4-year paralegal programs or college
graduates who have completed paralegal certificate programs. Some
employers prefer to train paralegals on the job, hiring college
graduates with no legal experience or promoting experienced legal
secretaries. Other entrants have experience in a technical field
that is useful to law firms, such as a background in tax preparation
for tax and estate practice, or nursing or health administration
for personal injury practice.
800 formal paralegal training programs are offered by 4-year colleges
and universities, law schools, community and junior colleges, business
schools, and proprietary schools. There are currently 247 programs
approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Although this approval
is neither required nor sought by many programs, graduation from
an ABA-approved program can enhance one's employment opportunities.
The requirements for admission to these programs vary. Some require
certain college courses or a bachelor's degree; others accept high
school graduates or those with legal experience; and a few schools
require standardized tests and personal interviews.
programs include 2-year associate's degree programs, 4-year bachelor's
degree programs, and certificate programs that take only a few months
to complete. Many certificate programs only require a high school
diploma or GED for admission, but they usually are designed for
students who already hold an associate or baccalaureate degree.
Programs typically include courses on law and legal research techniques,
in addition to courses covering specialized areas of law, such as
real estate, estate planning and probate, litigation, family law,
contracts, and criminal law. Many employers prefer applicants with
quality of paralegal training programs varies; the better programs
usually include job placement. Programs increasingly include courses
introducing students to the legal applications of computers. Many
paralegal training programs include an internship in which students
gain practical experience by working for several months in a private
law firm, office of a public defender or attorney general, bank,
corporate legal department, legal-aid organization, or government
agency. Experience gained in internships is an asset when seeking
a job after graduation. Prospective students should examine the
experiences of recent graduates before enrolling in those programs.
most employers do not require certification, earning a voluntary
certificate from a professional society may offer advantages in
the labor market. The National Association of Legal Assistants,
for example, has established standards for certification requiring
various combinations of education and experience. Paralegals who
meet these standards are eligible to take a 2-day examination, given
three times each year at several regional testing centers. Those
who pass this examination may use the designation Certified Legal
Assistant (CLA). In addition, the Paralegal Advanced Competency
Exam, established in 1996 and administered through the National
Federation of Paralegal Associations, offers professional recognition
to paralegals with a bachelor's degree and at least 2 years of experience.
Those who pass this examination may use the designation Registered
must be able to document and present their findings and opinions
to their supervising attorney. They need to understand legal terminology
and have good research and investigative skills. Familiarity with
the operation and applications of computers in legal research and
litigation support also is increasingly important. Paralegals should
stay informed of new developments in the laws that affect their
area of practice. Participation in continuing legal education seminars
allows paralegals to maintain and expand their legal knowledge.
paralegals frequently deal with the public, they should be courteous
and uphold the ethical standards of the legal profession. The National
Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal
Associations, and a few States have established ethical guidelines
for paralegals to follow.
usually are given more responsibilities and less supervision as
they gain work experience. Experienced paralegals who work in large
law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies
may supervise and delegate assignments to other paralegals and clerical
staff. Advancement opportunities also include promotion to managerial
and other law-related positions within the firm or corporate legal
department. However, some paralegals find it easier to move to another
law firm when seeking increased responsibility or advancement.
Paralegals and legal assistants are projected to grow faster than
the average for all occupations through 2010. Employment growth
stems from law firms and other employers with legal staffs increasingly
hiring paralegals to lower the cost and increase the availability
and efficiency of legal services. The majority of job openings for
paralegals in the future will be new jobs created by rapid employment
growth, but additional job openings will arise as people leave the
occupation. Despite projections of fast employment growth, stiff
competition for jobs should continue as the number of graduates
of paralegal training programs and others seeking to enter the profession
outpaces job growth.
law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals,
but a growing array of other organizations, such as corporate legal
departments, insurance companies, real estate and title insurance
firms, and banks will also continue to hire paralegals. Demand for
paralegals is expected to grow as an increasing population requires
additional legal services, especially in areas such as intellectual
property, healthcare, international, elder, sexual harassment, and
environmental law. The growth of prepaid legal plans also should
contribute to the demand for legal services. Paralegal employment
is expected to increase as organizations presently employing paralegals
assign them a growing range of tasks, and as paralegals are increasingly
employed in small and medium-sized establishments. A growing number
of experienced paralegals are expected to establish their own businesses.
opportunities for paralegals will expand in the public sector as
well. Community legal-service programs, which provide assistance
to the poor, aged, minorities, and middle-income families, will
employ additional paralegals to minimize expenses and serve the
most people. Federal, State, and local government agencies, consumer
organizations, and the courts also should continue to hire paralegals
in increasing numbers.
a limited extent, paralegal jobs are affected by the business cycle.
During recessions, demand declines for some discretionary legal
services, such as planning estates, drafting wills, and handling
real estate transactions. Corporations are less inclined to initiate
litigation when falling sales and profits lead to fiscal belt tightening.
As a result, full-time paralegals employed in offices adversely
affected by a recession may be laid off or have their work hours
reduced. On the other hand, during recessions, corporations and
individuals are more likely to face other problems that require
legal assistance, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces.
Paralegals, who provide many of the same legal services as lawyers
at a lower cost, tend to fare relatively better in difficult economic
Earnings of paralegals and legal assistants vary greatly. Salaries
depend on education, training, experience, type and size of employer,
and geographic location of the job. In general, paralegals who work
for large law firms or in large metropolitan areas earn more than
those who work for smaller firms or in less populated regions. In
2000, full-time, wage and salary paralegals and legal assistants
had median annual earnings of $35,360. The middle 50 percent earned
between $28,700 and $45,010. The top 10 percent earned more than
$56,060, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $23,350. Median
annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers
of paralegals in 2000 were as follows:
Legal services 34,230
Local Government 34,120
State Government 32,680
to the National Association of Legal Assistants, paralegals had
an average salary of $38,000 in 2000. In addition to a salary, many
paralegals received a bonus, which averaged about $2,400. According
to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, starting salaries
of paralegals with 1 year or less experience averaged $38,100 in
other occupations call for a specialized understanding of the law
and the legal system, but do not require the extensive training
of a lawyer. These include law clerks; title examiners, abstractors,
and searchers; claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators;
and occupational health and safety specialists and technicians.
of Additional Information
to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and
do not constitute an endorsement.
General information on a career as a paralegal can be obtained from:
Committee on Legal Assistants, American Bar Association, 541 North
Fairbanks Court, Chicago, IL 60611.
For information on the Certified Legal Assistant exam, schools that
offer training programs in a specific State, and standards and guidelines
for paralegals, contact:
Association of Legal Assistants, Inc., 1516 South Boston St., Suite
200, Tulsa, OK 74119.
Information on a career as a paralegal, schools that offer training
programs, job postings for paralegals, the Paralegal Advanced Competency
Exam, and local paralegal associations can be obtained from:
Federation of Paralegal Associations, P.O. Box 33108, Kansas City,
Information on paralegal training programs, including the pamphlet
"How to Choose a Paralegal Education Program," may be
Association for Paralegal Education, 2965 Flowers Road South, Atlanta,
Information on obtaining a position as a paralegal specialist with
the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel
Management (OPM) through a telephone-based system. Consult your
telephone directory under U.S. Government for a local number or
call (912) 757-3000; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339. The
first number is not tollfree, and charges may result. Information
also is available from the OPM Internet site: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov.
industries employing paralegals and legal assistants that appear
in the 2002-03 Career Guide to Industries:
State and local government, except education and health
OOH ONET Codes
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department
of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 Edition, Paralegals
and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm
(visited January 12, 2004).
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