“Behind every great lawyer is a great Paralegal”. Ever heard that before? This catchphrase has been tossed around a lot in the legal community – because it’s true! Imagine the amount of paperwork; motions, briefs, evidence – just general documentation – that goes into the famous cases we hear about; the ground-breaking, precedent-setting cases that define our law and society. Think one guy shouting at a judge and jury is doing all that paperwork himself?
Probably not. This is where the great paralegal comes in. Paralegals assist attorneys in every aspect of the practice of law and can transform the way an attorney does business and achieves success. Paralegals are also sometimes known as legal assistants, and can work in a vast number of fields – if they are working under an attorney. Private, government, and corporate sectors all need legal advisors or entire departments – and there we find our paralegals.
Paralegals can specialize in various types of law, and actually, it’s recommended. It makes for greater marketability in certain sectors. Civil, criminal, corporate, family, immigration, and intellectual property (IP) law are the most common specialties; with litigation (civil) being by far the most popular and growing field of law needing competent paralegals.
Once you choose the type of law you’d like to be involved in, there are many ways to grow your career. Paralegals often become indispensable to their supervising attorneys for such qualities as technical expertise (mastering programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, as well as legal case management software). Technical skills can raise your salary. Another option is to become a supervising Paralegal, who still reports to the attorney of record, but also manages a team of more junior paralegals. You can branch out on your own and become a paralegal contractor with services for hire as well. Many folks who choose this option offer their services on a virtual or remote basis; which is great if you’ve already got a home office and are good at sticking to your deadlines.
If you’re an entrepreneur at heart, there are paralegals who have started their own businesses specifically to recruit and hire out other paralegals to law firms, government, or companies needing temporary or permanent legal assistants. This can be a smart and rewarding way to stay in the legal field and become a small business owner as well.
The options look great for the paralegal field right now, with an 8 percent employment growth in the industry from 2014 to 2024. The annual median salary according to the BLS is $48,810, with some paralegals making just above $60,000 annually.