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Career Profile: Paralegal

Why Is Legal Representation a Job of Tomorrow?
The need for paralegals will rise as attorneys’ workloads increase. Employment opportunities for paralegals are expected to grow 22 percent by 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Paralegals make an average salary of $43,040 annually.

What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals are legal assistants to lawyers. They perform many of the same tasks as lawyers, such as preparing cases, investigating claims and tracking the progress of a particular case. However, unlike lawyers, paralegals are barred from duties that deal with carrying out the law. Instead, one of their main responsibilities is to help a lawyer prepare for closings, hearings, trials and meetings. They conduct research, analyze and organize information relevant to the case and write reports that the lawyer will use to determine how the case should be handled. Paralegals also help clients with tax returns, setting up trust funds and planning estates.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become a Paralegal?
Most paralegals have an associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree with a certificate in paralegal studies. An associate degree would take about two years to earn, and a bachelor’s would typically take four years to earn. Paralegal studies certificate programs generally last about a year, though some require only a few months to complete. Paralegal studies programs cover such topics as legal research and legal applications of computers. Certification can be obtained from several paralegal groups, such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, the American Alliance of Paralegals and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. These organizations offer slightly different certifications depending on the paralegal’s education level and work experience.

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