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What is a paralegal and how do I become one?

Being a paralegal is an interesting job where the workload and work patterns vary daily. This article answers the question, "What does a paralegal do?" and looks at the methods of entry into paralegal work.

What does a paralegal do?

Paralegals work in law firms and often, they are employed as 'in house' paralegals which means that they are employed by the law firm itself, as opposed to self-employed paralegals who will usually be hired by a qualified lawyer and work on a freelance (i.e. hourly or project rate) basis. Paralegals can be thought of as a type of legal assistant. Often, a paralegal will work with either a single qualified lawyer or with a team of up to four or five qualified lawyers and the work load is largely determined by whether the lawyer needs help with regards to their varying case load. Tasks Typical tasks will involve drafting letters, carrying out legal research, organising cases for the qualified lawyers, taking notes at meetings and many other tasks which help to manage casework more efficiently for the client. Clients have a right to demand that only paralegal work is carried out by paralegals and this stops partners and senior lawyers from charging senior rates for the work that a paralegal could do at paralegal rates, hence saving the client money.
Paralegals are not lawyers It should be noted that paralegals are not qualified to give advice, nor can they indicate answers to legal problems as if they were lawyers. Doing so would constitute a serious professional breach of confidence and of contractual obligations and duties.

How do I become a paralegal?

Degree holders Paralegals usually have law degrees, or have a first degree in another subject and then have concluded a law conversion course. It is after all, a career in the legal field. It is not uncommon to find paralegals who take paralegal work as a means to gain further work experience if their initial attempts to secure a place at the Bar or at a law firm have failed. This, unfortunately, has given the paralegal workforce the negative name of 'failed lawyers'. The national associations involved in paralegal training and paralegal careers are working hard to eradicate this impression. Exact requirements for the job may change depending on location and on seniority of the paralegal and as such you should check out each of the individual firm or job descriptions to find out more.

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