Read What a Paralegal Does and What Training You'll Need

Read a quick overview of the paralegal profession, including a description of the duties of a paralegal.

What is a Paralegal?

female paralegal representing a paralegal job description

If you are interested in legal work but don't have several years to devote to law school, a paralegal career may be right for you.

While attorneys assume ultimate responsibility for their legal services, paralegals assist them in almost every aspect of their work.

What Do Paralegals Do?

A paralegal job gives a lot of flexibility. The only legal services that paralegals can't perform are presenting cases in a court, giving legal advice, setting fees and accepting cases. That leaves a wide variety of legal duties that paralegals can perform.

In general, paralegals assist attorneys in preparing for closings, hearing, trials and corporate meetings in many ways. A typical paralegal job description might look like the following:

  • Researching legal documents
  • Drafting contracts, mortgages, separation agreements and trust instruments
  • Helping prepare legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions
  • Investigating cases
  • Locating witnesses
  • Obtaining affidavits and organizing depositions
  • Organizing and tracking case files
  • Providing trial assistance

Paralegal Workplace

Private law firms employed almost three out of four paralegals; most of the remainder worked in government jobs and corporate legal departments.

Within the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice is the largest employer, followed by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A small number work in freelance paralegal jobs, contracting services to attorneys or corporate legal departments.

Most paralegals spend their time at their computer or doing research in a legal library. In law firms, paralegals typically enjoy nice offices and well-appointed surroundings. Government or corporate paralegals often work in cubicles or shared office space.

Education and Training

There are several options for study when pursuing a paralegal career. The most common are a paralegal associate's degree or certificate program offered through private and community colleges.

  • Associate's degree programs typically last two years when attended full time
  • Certificate programs can range from three to 24 months
  • A small number of schools also offer bachelor's and master's degrees in paralegal studies
  • An associate's degree will prepare you for an entry-level paralegal job

Licensing and Certification

Paralegal certification is voluntary, but certified paralegals may be viewed more favorably by employers, earn more money, and get some of the better paralegal jobs. Certification is granted by three professional organizations:

  • National Association of Legal Assistants – Grants the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) designation.
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations – Grants the Registered Paralegal (RP) distinction.
  • American Alliance of Paralegals – Administers the American Alliance Certification Program (AACP).

Each type of certification requires a different combination of education and paralegal job experience. CLA/CP and RP certifications require paralegals to pass a standardized exam. More information on specific certification requirements is included in our paralegal certification article.

Paralegal USA

Learn about being a paralegal across the U.S., from New York to California, and Minnesota to Florida.

Knowing where you want to practice can help you make the most of your paralegal training and certification.

Where Do You Want to Be a Paralegal?