Paralegals are also referred to as “legal assistants.” The primary duties of this non-lawyer professional is to assist with legal services, as assigned by their employer, a board certified, qualified lawyer. In the United States, paralegals are not subject to federal, state or local government regulations as with some jurisdictions outside the US such as Canada. Therefore paralegals are not regarded as officers of the court. However, the position does require accreditation, formal training and experience in a related legal field and/or an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.
• Private law firms
• Public Interest law offices
• Private and Public Corporations
• Government Offices
No Governing Body
There isn’t a governing body that mandates federal requirements to become a paralegal, but members of this profession must adhere to regulations and requirements that are set forth by a league of legal organizations that are the responsible parties for paralegal accreditations in the US.
Organizations that govern Paralegal Accreditation
• The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
• The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
• The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
• The National Association of Legal Secretaries
Paralegals are required to pass a national examination and all applicants must meet the education level deemed appropriate for this position (a minimum of 24 semester hours of law related courses), a high school diploma or GED with related legal experience. For those interested in becoming a paralegal without the aforementioned training or degree(s). It is possible to complete an American Bar Association certification program.
Duties of a Paralegal Professional may include:
• Assisting with research for trials by preparing legal documents
• Helping to prepare drafts, legal briefs and motions
• Obtaining affidavits and locating witnesses
• Organizing case files and tracking depositions
• Drafting wills, mortgages, divorce and separate agreements
Typically, formal paralegal training involves an Associate Degree which can be completed online or in-person in 24 months, while a certificate program requires anywhere in the range of 3 to 24 months. There are a number of institutions of higher learning which offer Bachelor’s and post-secondary degrees in paralegal studies. Associate degree program are generally for those who are interested in a second career or an entry level paralegal position.
Advancement & Training
It isn’t uncommon to advance to the position of paralegal, after satisfactory employment as a legal secretary. This type of transition most often occurs within private law firms that offer on-the-job training for qualified candidates. In addition to on-the-job training programs, some employers require their paralegals to receive on-going continuing education to recertify at designated intervals, usually every three years.
No Federal Requirements
Paralegals education and training isn’t mandated by the federal government. However some states have mandatory continuing education requirements. Effective in January 2007, California requires that all paralegals complete 8 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE), which consists of 4 hours of general MCLE courses and 4 hours of Legal Ethics.
There are some paralegal positions which require specialized medical training, such as employment with a personal injury or medical malpractice attorney.