Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
Studying in the field
The legal field can be one of the most challenging and sometimes rewarding professions one can pursue. As a paralegal, the work you encounter daily will be demanding but interesting, and have a very real impact on others. This will of course lead to a high level of job satisfaction, and there's nothing better than that.
The University of Loyola's website states: "In the few decades of their formal existence, paralegals have become established members of the legal community. Interviewing clients, investigating facts, drafting documents, and researching the law are typical tasks performed by paralegals under the supervision of an attorney. Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, work in private law firms, corporations, banks, insurance and real estate agencies, title companies, courts, and government agencies. The undeniable cost efficiency of using paralegals has made this field one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States."
By its very nature, law is a vital practice. Whether or not you can accomplish your tasks will affect people. A graduate degree in the paralegal field will only further prepare you to meet these challenges.
The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as "a person, qualified by education, training, or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."
Because paralegals work in virtually every aspect of the legal field, you will find many different specialties and positions. To gain a full picture of your options, research as many different kinds of law as you can, and see which fields sound most intriguing to you.
The National Association of Legal Assistants' website states: "A few colleges and universities that offer undergraduate paralegal degree programs are now offering an advanced degree in paralegal studies. Other universities offer advanced degree programs and law-related areas such as legal administration and legal studies."
Getting into a graduate paralegal studies program depends on your past academic achievement as well as your possession of the right skill set to succeed in the field. You should be organized, self-motivating, and good at working under pressure, and you should possess the ability to synthesize a great deal of information in a short period of time.
Job opportunities in the field
The legal world is large and diverse. The different aspects provide a significant number of different options. You will find many job responsibilities within the one general area of work in which you choose to specialize. This is to say that a firm you work for may conduct many different kinds of law and you may specialize in many different things, but your overall job description remains the same. Your graduate degree will further concentrate your focus in an area and enhance your ability to achieve goals and tasks presented. The post baccalaureate degree will also give you an edge in the marketplace whether it is a different certification or further understanding of a unique legal subject matter.
Earning a graduate degree in a paralegal field can have many functions, though they are usually very distinct. Some of the certifications earned in graduate school may be by official title. This means something the law says you must earn to be certified or qualified to do. This could be a certification in litigation, for instance. A degree could also lead you in a different career direction. Someone who is inclined to the legal field and feels their strength is in leading others may choose to get the degree in paralegal administration.
Paralegals provide valuable assistance to attorneys by helping them prepare for closings, hearing, trials and corporate meetings by:
- Assisting lawyers engaged in trials
- Drafting contracts, mortgages, separation agreements and trust instruments
- Assisting in the preparation of tax returns and planning estates
- Coordinating the activities of other law office employees
- Maintaining financial office records
- Investigating cases
- Researching legal documents
- Locating witnesses
- Helping prepare legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions
- Obtaining affidavits
- Organizing and tracking case files
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): "Earnings of paralegals and legal assistants vary greatly. Salaries depend on education, training, experience, the type and size of employer, and the geographic location of the job. In general, paralegals that work for large law firms or in large metropolitan areas earn more than those who work for smaller firms or in less populated regions. In addition to earning a salary, many paralegals receive bonuses. In May 2004, full-time wage and salary paralegals and legal assistants had median annual earnings, including bonuses, of $39,130. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,040 and $49,950. The top 10 percent earned more than $61,390, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $25,360. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of paralegals in May 2004 were as follows":
- Federal Government: $59,370
- Local government: $38,260
- Legal services: $37,870
- State government: $34,910
Paralegal work is some of the most rewarding in the legal profession, and it tends to have less stress associated with it than work as a lawyer. Therefore, competition for a position can be tough, as it is with many excellent professions. A graduate degree specializing or certifying you in a specific task or position is a great way to set yourself ahead of other possible candidates. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics:
"Employment for paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through 2014. Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks formerly carried out by lawyers. Besides new jobs created by employment growth, additional job openings will arise as people leave the occupation. Despite projections of rapid employment growth, competition for jobs should continue as many people seek to go into this profession; however, experienced, formally trained paralegals should have the best employment opportunities" (BLS).