What is a Paralegal?

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), a paralegal is a legal assistant who works under the supervision of a licensed lawyer. Most paralegals work full-time in legal firms, corporate offices or government agencies.

Primary Duties

Paralegals deal with a wide range of administrative duties, such as organizing records, drafting documents and conducting intensive legal research. They must either digitally access or manually retrieve documents from courthouses. They are sometimes asked to investigate case reports and background facts in order to help attorneys prepare for court. Some paralegals accompany lawyers to court so they can coordinate witness schedules and handle documentation. The specific responsibilities of a paralegal depend on the firm and field of law in which the paralegal works. All paralegals must demonstrate high levels of productivity and attention to detail while multitasking in fast-paced environments. There are corporate, litigation, immigration, bankruptcy, family law and estate planning paralegals.

Health Care Paralegal

Health care organizations need attorneys and paralegals to handle medical malpractice lawsuits. They must have a strong understanding of medical terms, malpractice claims and the insurance and health care industries. They will draft legal documents for attorneys to review and assist attorneys in preparing for trials, mediations and depositions. This means they will create notebooks, contact witnesses and communicate with experts and the opposing counsel. They request, review and summarize medical, billing and insurance records. They locate medical expert witnesses and conduct in-depth legal research on health care regulations. Health care paralegals must have strong initiative and high work standards. They must also possess a strong knowledge of regulatory requirements for health care organizations.

Corporate Litigation Paralegal

All multinational companies have legal departments that are tasked with mitigating risks, handling legal affairs and responding to complaints about regulatory non-compliance. They assist corporate lawyers who advise executives on legal matters and policy initiatives related to domestic and international operations. Corporate paralegals assist administrators, office staff, business committees and designated clients. These paralegals are expected to have at least a paralegal certificate from a college or business school. Corporate paralegals also need experience with handling government regulators and external professional organizations. They must have the demonstrated ability to deliver timely and accurate work products. Corporate litigation paralegals will manage heavy caseloads with large degrees of independence.

Senior Paralegal

Senior paralegals provide leadership to subordinates and support staff, clients and legal teams. They are responsible for work quality, record keeping and meeting deadlines. They perform intake of cases, troubleshooting potential problems and create case strategies. They direct paralegals to create draft petitions and applications, which they in turn review for completeness. They regularly communicate with clients regarding procedural problems and case processing milestones. Senior paralegals prioritize and re-assign cases, monitor staff workloads and evaluate production levels. Under the supervision of an attorney, they review and approve client billing, perform case management duties and assist in the hiring and training of new team members.

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Anyone serious about becoming a paralegal should pursue at minimum a two-year legal degree from a community college or technical school.