What Exactly is a Paralegal?

What Exactly is a Paralegal?

If you ever stay up late watching television—or happen to watch TV in the middle of the day for some reason—you’ve probably seen an ad about getting your degree from a home study program. They usually list a bunch of different careers, from medical transcription to veterinary studies. I think it’s wonderful that so many people—particularly working families who don’t have the time or money to attend a regular university—can get such an education from home in this way (that is, if it’s legit).

That said, I’ve always heard them include the term “paralegal,” and I’ve never known exactly what that means. I’ve always just figured it meant a lawyer’s aid, which is still a pretty vague explanation. Having planned on being a lawyer at one point, I should already know, right?

It turns out that a paralegal is exactly that—a legal assistant. He or she is responsible for conducting many of the tasks a lawyer does, particularly with case investigation. Paralegals usually check all of the facts of a case to make sure that lawyers are always up to speed and have all of the information they can get for a case. I suppose when we see law-based movies and television shows and there’s an entire team sitting around a bigshot lawyer, and the bigshot’s all, “Mary, get me the skinny on Mr. Robertson’s life. I want to know everything, down to the day he lost his virginity!” we can probably assume that Mary—along with much of the rest of her young, anxious-looking team—is a paralegal.

When conducting legal research, paralegals examine current laws, past cases, and any current (or past) court rulings. They do this through textbooks, computers, and even information sources, such as informants, other paralegals, or people within specific fields of interest. For example, if a paralegal is looking for information on an art dealer, he or she might consult a friend in the same business for information.

Paralegals are also savvy with the written word. They keep track of all of the paperwork within a case and write up reports on any information found for the lawyer(s) to review. Depending on where he or she works, a paralegal could have a number of other duties, too. Some might help prepare financial records and documents, such as tax returns, while others could write up legal documents used in mortgages.

Though I read that paralegals usually work a full 40-hour work week, somehow I doubt this. If you’re doing all of the research for a law firm, writing up reports, and keeping track of entire cases, you’ve got to be pulling more hours than that. And a paralegal’s salary averages to about $49,000, which isn’t bad—if you enjoy the work.