Paralegals perform pivotal tasks in the legal process. Often assuming duties that help lawyers carry out the judicial process, it is a career field with a wide breadth of responsibilities and possibilities.


While lawyers and judges may be the public face of the legal system, paralegals are behind the scenes helping ensure everything runs smoothly. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, paralegal careers were first developed in the 1960s as lawyers looked for ways to work more efficiently.

By law, paralegals can't perform some functions of an attorney such as providing legal advice, accepting cases, setting fees or representing clients in court. However, these professionals have a wide range of duties including the following:

  • Conducting research
  • Locating witnesses
  • Conducting interviews
  • Drafting documents
  • Summarizing depositions and testimony
  • Attending hearings with an attorney

Individuals interested in paralegal careers typically must have a formal education and may also earn voluntary certification. While bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies are available, a two-year associate degree is sufficient for many jobs in the field. Law and litigation careers offer many paths for students, and the paralegal tract is no exception.

3 Types of Paralegals

Paralegal careers can be a good fit for individuals with a number of different long-term goals. The industry publication Paralegal Today notes there are three types of paralegals.

  1. Transitional paralegals: Transitional paralegals are individuals who are interested in a legal career but don't plan to always work as a paralegal. They may find work as a legal assistant to help them decide whether the field is a good fit for them, or they may use a paralegal position to earn income while they pursue their law degree.
  2. Part-time paralegals: Those who work on a temporary or part-time basis are another type of paralegal. Individuals in this category may use paralegal work to supplement their income and allow them to pursue other interests that may not be as financially lucrative.
  3. Career paralegals: Finally, some assistants aren't using their position as a stepping stone to other professions and instead plan their entire career as a paralegal.

Regardless of whether you want an engaging career in a growing field or need a temporary position to tide you over while pursuing other goals, working as a paralegal can be a smart choice. Depending on the education program selected, a degree in paralegal studies may serve as a basis to go on and earn a bachelor's degree or graduate degree as well.

Can Paralegals Specialize?

Just as attorneys may focus on a specific area of the law, so too can paralegals specialize. The Paralegal Alliance says the following are some common practice areas for legal assistants.

  • Family law
  • Estate planning and probate
  • Intellectual property
  • Corporate
  • Bankruptcy
  • Litigation
  • Labor and employment
  • Real estate
  • Immigration
  • Consumer

Future paralegals may want to focus their studies on their preferred area while earning their degree. For current paralegals hoping to specialize, another option may be to take continuing legal education classes in their chosen field.

What's the Future for Paralegal Careers?

The future for this career is a strong one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for paralegals should be faster than average in the coming years. From 2012-22, the bureau anticipates 17 percent growth in the profession, and paralegal salary potential remains above the national average. While the vast majority of paralegals — 72 percent, according to the BLS — work in the legal services sector, others may be employed by state and federal governments as well as corporations.

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1. "Getting Started as a Paralegal," Oliver M. Gierke, Paralegal Today, January 2009, Accessed Jan. 26, 2015, http://paralegaltoday.com/issue_archive/online_only/new_paralegal.htm
2. About Paralegals, National Association of Legal Assistants, http://www.nala.org/AboutParalegals.aspx
3. "What kind of paralegal do you want to be?," Shelley Riseden, Paralegal Alliance, June 3, 2013, http://www.paralegalalliance.com/what-kind-of-paralegal-do-you-want-to-be/#axzz3JzXF2Ax2
4. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
5. Paralegals and Legal Assistants, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm