Law & Order, Matlock, Perry Mason, and other legal shows on television conjure up images of capable and skillful lawyers. However it may be easy to forget that behind the scenes supporting these skillful experts are another group of hardworking professionals known as paralegals. It would be a good idea to explore and understand the paralegal profession.
In order to fully be able to investigate the paralegal profession, we need to understand exactly what a paralegal is. It is interesting that:
“The American Bar Association defines the interchangeable titles of legal assistant and paralegal as a “person qualifies by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26).
Notice that paralegals perform “legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26). Consequently paralegals are prohibited from independently billing clients, representing themselves as lawyers to the public at large, and trying cases in open court (Gibbs, 2007). This ensures that there remains a distinction between an attorney, who has been sanctioned as an officer of the court, and a paralegal who works under the supervision of a lawyer (Gibbs, 2007).
Why Paralegals Are Needed
The need for paralegals began to manifest itself “in the late 1960s, as the demand and costs for legal services began to escalate.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26). There arose a need to enhance the efficacy and economic operation of lawyers. This objective was accomplished by, the hiring and training of individuals that could take on and carry out many of the routine and mundane tasks of attorneys, which in turn could bring about cost savings to clients (Gibbs, 2007). “Today paralegals are viewed as vital and respected members of legal teams around the globe.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26).
Becoming a Paralegal
Many individuals that have a desire to become a paralegal may wonder how to get the legal training that is required. Typically, a person can receive the necessary training “through a two-year community college paralegal program leading to an associate degree.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26). However, if an individual already has a bachelor’s degree, then paralegal certification may open the door to a career in the profession. Monke makes the point that, “in many markets, CLA/CP certification is crucial to securing a paralegal job and to career advancement.” (Monke, 2005, p. 22). So, in some cases certification may be absolutely necessary. However, there are a number of lawyers who are providing extensive “on the job training” to promising paralegal prospects (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26). “There are also a small number of schools that offer four-year bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 26). Without question, in order for prospective paralegals to get the education and training necessary to become proficient as paralegals will require a commitment of time and resources. Because of this commitment, it is appropriate for prospective paralegals to be concerned about future job prospects within their chosen career.
Future Job Growth
It appears that future job growth in the paralegal profession will be excellent. In fact, “the National Association of Legal Assistants reports that this profession is projected to grow by 33 percent during the first 10 years of the 21st century, growing much faster than average for all occupations through 2014.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 27). Gibbs makes the point that the basis for such robust growth within the paralegal profession, is because of two very important factors (Gibbs, 2007). First, there is a continuing need for law firms across the country to operate in an economical and frugal manner, and there no doubt will be an ongoing increase in the populace of the United States (Gibbs, 2007, p. 27). These two trends will ensure that members of the paralegal profession will continue to be in demand and have promising job prospects (Gibbs, 2007).
Benefits of Becoming a Paralegal
However, even after the investment of time and resources an individual going into paralegal work may wonder if the outlay is actually worth the effort. In this regard, Gibbs mentions three major benefits of working as a paralegal (Gibbs, 2007). If a person is considering going to law school to become a lawyer, then becoming a paralegal gives an individual an opportunity to “experience the day-to-day workings inside a law office” before making the large expenditure of time and money that is required of someone who wants to sit for the bar and become an attorney (Gibbs, 2007, p. 27). Also, the work can be interesting, exciting, and offer the prospect of an interesting, engaging, and fulfilling career. In addition, there is the potential of earning a substantial salary working as a paralegal. As a matter of fact, “the median annual earnings for paralegals or legal assistants, including bonuses, were around $39,000 in May 2004, with the top 10 percent earning more than $61,000.” (Gibbs, 2007, p. 27).
For many who are in the legal profession, they have found the law both fascinating and stimulating. In exploring the paralegal profession, it is clear that there continues to be a demand for paralegals, that the education and certification can require a considerable investment, but that the rewards of having a career as a paralegal can be rewarding in terms of experiences and compensation. Certainly, if a college student enjoyed watching legal television shows like Law & Order, Matlock, and Perry Mason then maybe the paralegal profession should be further investigated.
Gibbs, H. (2007). The Essential Paralegal. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers , V. 82(1),p. 26-29.
Monke, D. (2005). Why paralegal certification counts. Tennessee Bar Journal , 41(8), 22-36.