Before you decide to become a paralegal or a legal assistant, you need to have a clear idea about the job duties and responsibilities need to perform. The overall work of a legal assistant is not an easy task and you need to be fully prepared for it before entering this highly challenging career industry.
Basically, legal assistants work side by side with a lawyer. They do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. In simple terms, they assist lawyers in their day to day work. Most paralegals work 40 hours a week on a 9-5 weekday schedule and usually work in a traditional office environment.
Some of the duties and responsibilities of a paralegal are:
Organizing legal documents:
In any legal industry there are plenty of paper works and it is important to keep the important papers and documents in an organized manner. It is the duty of paralegals to conduct the bates-stamping, redaction, duplication and indexing of documents. They also set up and maintain files which can be organized chronologically, numerically and/or by subject matter. This helps in finding necessary documents within a short span of time in future.
Various research works:
One of the important tasks of paralegals is to conduct various document searches and factual research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles. Depending upon the requirement of a particular case, they need to carry out both internal and external research works. For doing research work they need to take help of a variety of external resources such as newspapers, magazines, libraries, case documents and trade associations. They need to keep information related to cases or transactions in computer databases. Once the research work is done they also need to summarize their findings in a clear and systematic manner.
Investigate the facts of a case:
For any case, there are many aspects that need to handled beforehand prior to the trail date. Under the guidance of a lawyer, a legal assistant prepares witness and necessary materials which are important for the case. It is their task to organize interview memos, digests and other relevant documents for lawyer’s review and case preparation. They also need to organize and present the information in a systematic manner for the lawyer.
Drafting legal documents:
At times, legal assistant are also given the task of drafting contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements, divorce agreements, and other legal documents. They also may assist in preparing tax returns, establishing trust funds, and planning estates.
It is the job of a paralegal to prepare for and attend depositions. Under the supervision of a lawyer, they gather and prepare documents relevant to the deponent, take important notes and handle, organize and at the same time exhibits during the deposition, and make transcripts to summarize the main highlights of a case proceeding. They also organize the various evidences for use at depositions and trials. Also one of the important tasks of a legal assistant is also to pull relevant documents, proofread papers, organize exhibits and create document indices in the preparation of motion filing.
Legal assistants also assist lawyers in the preparation and filing of all court documents. They help in creating, binding and distributing both files and courtesy copies. They may also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases. They also organize the briefs, exhibits and appendices. They may also prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled.
Keeping track of cases:
A legal case passes through various phases and it is the duty of a paralegal to act as liaison among various internal departments as well as with outside agencies. They keep a track of the progress of documents through litigation support departments, order transcripts from reporting services, and fulfill requests from outside counsel and others.
Assisting a lawyer in the courtroom:
They also organize exhibits, files and all other supporting documents, coordinate trial set-up and logistics, assist attorneys in the courtroom by taking notes, handling exhibits, and marking documents referred to by counsel, assist in the preparation of witness testimony and serve as liaison between trial lawyers and in-house staff.
Please note that the tasks may vary from job to job depending upon the organization where you are working. Also, the overall tasks of paralegals can be much more for those having specializing in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. Also, experienced and senior paralegals are also given supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to others. Nevertheless, they are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be the practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court.
To perform the typical works of a paralegal, there are certain skills that you must have. Some of the skills include:
- The ability to perform legal research
- The ability to interview witnesses and document what is learned
- Good writing and communication skills
- The ability to prioritize and work under a tight schedule
- Basic computer skills
- In depth knowledge of legal terminology and principles
- The ability to analyze legal documents for accuracy
To conclude, as a paralegal, one gets the opportunity to participate in the legal field without actually becoming a lawyer. Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals hold jobs in one of the 30 fastest growing fields in the U.S. (through 2018). So, this is the right time to choose this profession.