Paralegals work under the direct supervision of an attorney in a law office, governmental agency, or corporation where they perform non-clerical, legal duties. Often paralegals will be heavily involved in the preparation of trials, closings, and hearings. For example, a paralegal may look over a court case to ensure that all facts have been appropriately considered. In recent years, paralegals have been handed an increasing amount of legal responsibilities, which has also increased the demand for paralegals since they typically charge less money to perform many of the same duties as lawyers. However, paralegals are still limited in their legal responsibilities. For instance, they cannot present cases in court or administer legal advice.
The majority of paralegals have obtained an associate's degree in paralegal studies (like those offered at many community colleges), but there are also a fair amount of paralegals who have obtained either a bachelor's or master's degree. There are also close to 260 training programs for paralegals that are approved by the American Bar Association. Completion of one of these programs can give you the upward advantage when seeking employment (BLS).
Additionally, some choose to obtain certification as a paralegal to demonstrate their professional competency to potential employers. Certification, however, is not mandatory for most jobs as a paralegal. Administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), the Certified Paralegal examination lasts two days and covers Communications; Legal Research; Ethics; Substantive Law; and Judgment and Analytical Ability. In order to pass the exam, you must answer 70% of questions correctly in each of the aformentioned sections. For recertification, you must complete 50 hours of continuing education. There are other certifications options available as well.
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