What is a paralegal? A paralegal, also referred to as a legal assistant, is a professional who assists qualified lawyers in their work. These individuals perform many different functions in law offices, although they cannot perform duties considered to be within the practice of law. Paralegals typically perform administrative and research functions including court and document preparation.
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Preparing for court dates such as closings, hearings and trials is a major part of many paralegal positions. Paralegals identify laws and judicial decisions to help lawyers build cases. They also analyze and organize data, write summaries and assist attorneys during trial.
If an attorney’s case goes to court, paralegals are responsible for preparing the legal documents including motions and pleadings, along with organizing and cataloguing all the relevant trial documents. Along with trial work, paralegals may help draft contracts for mortgages, divorces and separation agreements, or assist in preparing tax returns, planning estates and establishing trust funds. A paralegal may also coordinate the work of other law office employees and manage the overall administration of the office.
Paralegals can work in a variety of settings. Most are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments and government offices. The type of work is largely dictated by the area of law practiced at the firm or office. A paralegal may specialize in a certain type of law such as criminal, family, corporate, immigration or labor. The tasks also vary by the size of the office: a paralegal at a small firm will perform more general tasks while one employed at a very large firm may work only in a specific niche, such as a labor law firm’s employee benefits department.
Paralegals are usually assigned routine tasks at the beginning of their careers, but as they gain knowledge and experience they can be given more varied tasks with additional responsibilities.1
1Westwood prepares graduates for certification. Graduates wishing to attain certification must take and pass any applicable test/exam.