Learn Which Paralegal Specialties are Available from Your School
There are many paralegal specialties to choose from in paralegal school.
Legal Specialties You'll Study in Paralegal School
If you're thinking of going to one of the many paralegal schools across the U.S., you should know about the paralegal specialties that you'll work in. Paralegal work varies, depending on the law firm and its needs.
In smaller general practice law firms, your daily practice may depend upon clientele. General practice clients have a wide range of needs, and paralegal schools will teach you about all the different paralegal fields. In contrast, paralegals in larger law firms typically work in one or two specific areas, such as corporate law or litigation.
Here are a few of the most common areas of paralegal practice:
Most paralegals work in litigation, the settling of disputes through the judicial system (in other words, lawsuits). There are two main types of litigation: civil and criminal.
- Criminal litigation cases involve violations of the rules of society. Theft, drunk driving and assault are examples.
- Civil litigation refers to areas of the law that aren't criminal, such as disputes over contractual obligations or property. Civil litigation sometimes involves the court, but most lawsuits are settled before going to trial. In either case, there's a lot of work for paralegals to do.
The work of a litigation paralegal often includes the following job duties:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Analyzing and digesting legal documents
- Investigating facts
- Performing legal and factual research
- Drafting pleadings, legal memoranda and briefs
- Keeping track of court dates and deadlines
- Assisting in trial preparation and at trial
- Aiding in preparing appeals
Estate Planning and Probate Paralegals
Estate planning generally involves helping clients draft documents and utilize procedures to determine who will receive their property after they die. This specialty area also includes creating court documents for guardianships or conservatorships, which are legal arrangements that respectively govern the care of children or adults who are deemed "incompetent."
Paralegals who specialize in estate planning and probate are typically responsible for the following paralegal duties:
- Interviewing clients
- Arranging for collection
- Valuing and transferring assets
- Administering estate accounts
- Drafting and filing state and federal tax returns
- Drafting wills and other estate planning documents
Paralegal schools also teach you about corporate (or business) law, which deals with the formation of business entities and the execution of business transactions such as mergers or stock offerings. Corporate law includes the subspecialty of intellectual property—the laws that protect the inventions and ideas of businesses and individuals.
A corporate paralegal's practice often includes these paralegal duties:
- Drafting partnership and corporate formation documents
- Maintaining corporate minute books and resolutions
- Fulfilling securities reporting requirements
- Helping prepare and file annual financial reports
- Conducting due diligence for business transactions
- Drafting shareholder agreements and stock-option plans
- Monitoring and reviewing government regulations to ensure legal business operation
- Conducting patent and trademark searches
- Preparing for board meetings
Employment Law or Labor Law Paralegals
Employment law covers the relationships and responsibilities between employers and employees. Paralegals who specialize in employment law develop knowledge in all areas of the employment relationship, including human resources, hiring and termination, workers' compensation, unemployment, and claims of discrimination or other wrongdoing. Employment law contains the subspecialty of labor law, which regulates the organization and activity of labor unions.
An employment law paralegal's job duties include:
- Drafting employee policies and employment handbooks
- Drafting pleadings and affidavits in employment disputes
- Investigating wrongful termination or other claims
- Helping facilitate positions in organized labor campaigns
- Performing work similar to litigation paralegals when preparing for trial
Real Estate Paralegals
Real estate law involves the purchase, sale, finance and leasing of residential or commercial property. Paralegals deal with the documents that allow for the legal transfer or use of property such as titles, deeds, mortgages and leases.
Typical duties of a real estate paralegal include:
- Drafting transaction documents
- Preparing for closings
- Performing due diligence
- Managing and indexing transaction documents and closing binders
- Coordinating closing of escrow
- Researching title and administrative processes involved in land use and environmental regulations
A government paralegal works for any local, state or federal government agency. Many paralegals find jobs working for the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department, even the White House. Paralegals also often find jobs in the court system. Depending upon the agency or area of practice, government paralegals perform a wide range of duties, including conducting investigations and collecting and analyzing evidence.
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