What is a paralegal?

Most people are familiar with what a lawyer does. Everyone has seen at least one television show with a tense courtroom, an overbearing judge, and a discriminating jury. The right well-trained lawyer walks into the room and with a few swift arguments, he’s able to save the day. A lawyer defends a client, argues for a client, and tries his best to get the client a good deal when it comes to sentencing. What then, does a paralegal do? More importantly, what is a paralegal’s place in the legal world?

Paralegals in the Work Force
Simply put, a paralegal is a legal office assistant. Paralegals work alongside lawyers to help put together cases for court. For example, a paralegal may help a lawyer conduct research on a particular type of case and find out what previous outcomes to specific court issues have been. If a client has been accused of drunk driving, for example, the paralegal will try to find previous court cases with similar situations and find out how those cases were resolved.

Additionally, paralegals may perform basic office tasks for a lawyer. This can include anything from answering the phone to bookkeeping to organizing a lawyer’s personal schedule. Many paralegals are also responsible for office billing of clients, which means that being a legal assistant requires some bookkeeping skills. Many people don’t realize that clients don’t necessarily pay everything up front when it comes to their legal cases. Lawyers may choose to have a client pay a retainer fee up front and then bill the client for extra expenses, but many lawyers choose to bill clients on a regular basis so they don’t have to pay everything up front. Regardless of how a lawyer plans to bill clients, paralegals need to understand the billing system and be able to help the lawyer handle this process.

Training for the Job
Becoming a paralegal requires the proper training. While some paralegals do have 4-year degrees, many simply get a job certificate or a 2-year degree. Proper training is essential for paralegals since it gives paralegals the chance to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to run a legal firm. Paralegals in training will learn how to conduct research, how to use legal dictionaries, how to create cases for a client, and even how to handle computer issues within a law firm. For anyone interested in becoming a paralegal, training is essential.