One of the lesser-known career options for a paralegal is the forensic paralegal. A forensic paralegal is a paralegal with training in the investigation of electronic storage and communications to uncover evidence of activities that can be used to support or discredit a civil lawsuit or criminal case. This process is known as e-discovery, or the electronic discovery part of the traditional discovery portion of a lawsuit. A forensic paralegal is also brought in when a criminal case requires accessing electronic devices and computers for deleted or hidden files.
What is a Forensic Paralegal?
Electronic forensics involves investigating computer hard drives for deleted information, searching for emails on personal computers and servers, and tracing the paths of emails, files and documents. The forensic paralegal also has to be well-versed in chain of custody documentation and data preservation in order to avoid being accused of misconduct when recovering information. Electronic data is easily manipulated and the forensic paralegal has to make sure that they maintain high standards during their recovery process to ensure the information they recover can be used in court.
Forensic paralegals undergo traditional paralegal training in order to earn a paralegal certificate or associate’s degree. They also take classes to learn how electronic storage works, understand the basic operations of a computer, how files are stored on fixed and removable media, and how to use machine language commands to access a computer’s hard drive. A forensic paralegal is also trained in the retrieval of information from smartphones and how to use the necessary tools to achieve their goal.
What makes a forensic paralegal a valuable member in a law firm is the fact they are trained in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and Discovery. Their training and knowledge adds legitimacy and solidity to the information uncovered and makes it harder for the opposing counsel to dismiss their testimony and results.
How Do I Become a Forensic Paralegal?
There are no degree programs that provide a direct focus on forensics and paralegal studies. When looking at a degree program for paralegal training, look at a school that has an emphasis on electronic documentation and their retrieval from various devices in its paralegal program. In the event those types of classes aren’t available in the paralegal program, talk to the department head to find out which electives can help you achieve your goal of becoming a forensic paralegal. The goal of becoming a forensic paralegal is a very realistic one, but education usually winds up being a hybrid of computer studies or cybersecurity alongside the traditional paralegal course of study.
Seek out classes that provide the necessary education in computer basics even if you’re already proficient with computer hardware and its functions. There are multiple operating systems for smartphones and PCs that, while having similarities due to the basic machine language of Unix, have their own methods of making a computer and smartphone function. The more operating system knowledge a forensic paralegal possesses, the more effective they can be at recovering data from various sources.
What Does a Forensic Paralegal Do?
The role of a forensic paralegal is to uncover electronic evidence from electronic devices. The process involves accessing the computer, smartphone, hard drive or storage media that contains the information being sought. People frequently try to make their evidence disappear by deleting their files, emails and documents from their computer or device. This is done in the hopes of getting the information to become permanently deleted and unrecoverable. Unfortunately for them, these files can often be recovered through an expert examination and application of forensic recovery tools. A forensic paralegal who is trained in the use of these tools can recover data, then preserve and rebuild it into a readable format more often than not.
Once the information being sought has been recovered and restored, it can then be used to prove or disprove a statement or claim made during a criminal or civil proceeding. The person who thought they covered their tracks or eliminated sensitive information can be confronted with the evidence in court.
How Much Does a Forensic Paralegal Make?
The median pay for paralegals in 2019 was $51,740 per year. There is no direct salary data for a forensic paralegal salary, but a forensic paralegal with some experience can expect to earn the median salary at the least. Forensic paralegal jobs tend to pay accordingly to experience, knowledge and talent. Finding work as a forensic paralegal may pose a challenge due to the fact that the role is still vaguely defined in the legal field. A paralegal who has undergone training and education in the use of electronic forensic recovery tools should make it a point to focus on their skills in their resume and during an interview. Informing a potential employer of your skills as both a paralegal and forensics experts helps you position yourself in a unique niche of the legal field that is established and growing.