Many people are familiar with the legal system as they see it on TV. They see lawyers and judges doing their work in court, arguing their cases and making their decisions. But what is not reflected on TV, but is reflected in real life, is the work done behind the scenes. Much of that work is done by paralegals, who are often the unsung heroes of the legal profession. This paper will take a look at the field, the job duties and its growth potential.
Paralegals do non-clerical services under an attorney’s supervision, which include tasks such as maintaining important documents, preparation of trial exhibits, research, and drafting court pleadings (Lansing Community College). They get to talk to a lot of people, on the phone and in person, to be able to do their research. They need to be reliable for their attorney or supervisor. The paralegal must be trustworthy, because if they make a mistake, the lawyer may lose their argument, and possibly, the case. When courtroom observers see a chart or evidence, chances are it was prepared by a paralegal. Frequently, a lawyer might cite a law, or a case. Since there are tens of thousands of those, it’s nearly impossible to have all of them memorized. That’s where a paralegal comes in, to research, both in books and on computer, to find out that information that a lawyer can use.
Paralegals are found in all types of environments. They mostly work for law firms, corporations’ legal departments and the government (U.S. Dept. of Labor). There are many colleges which offer programs to study the paralegal profession around the country. Typically, a paralegal needs at least an associate’s degree, although some businesses may want a bachelor’s degree, with some employers wanting the degree to be from a program certified by the American Bar Association (Lansing Community College). Pay, of course, is a factor to consider, especially when considering an education. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2012, the median pay for a paralegal was $46,990 per year, or $22.59 per hour. In 2006, the average pay range was 33,920 to $54,690, according to the department (Lansing Community College). Law firms typically pay more, especially when they are large, and some areas of specialty may also pay more (Lansing Community College). Also, paralegals with bachelor’s degrees tend to make more than those who don’t (Lansing Community College).
When searching for a career, a worker would like one that has good prospects for the future. A career which may be obsolete in a few years may pay some bills now, but may eventually not be workable. It would not make much financial sense to spend money on an education to learn a career if that career may not exist in the near future. One has to analyze the cost of the education against the eventual and future finances. If someone went back 100 years, they could ask buggy-whip makers if they felt like they had a good future ahead, or if that new-fangled automobile would just be a passing fad. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the paralegal profession to grow faster than average, 22% between 2006 and 2016 (Lansing Community College. Likewise, the Department of Labor also predicted faster-than average growth, 17 percent, from 2012-2022. The paralegals with the best prospects would be those who have good computer and database management skills (U.S. Department of Labor).
Becoming a paralegal takes some education, some skill, and a lot of hard work. But the rewards can be immense. Not only is it a career with a bright future, but it is a job that can be enjoyable. Helping a lawyer win a case, or doing research can be fun for the right person.
- Lansing Community College (n.d.), “Paralegal Program Career Facts”, Web. 5 April 2014,
- United States Department of Labor, (n.d.), “Paralegals and Legal Assistants”, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Web. 5 April 2014,