Deciding to become a paralegal opens up a wealth of choices, one of which is whether you want to be a professional career paralegal or you want to see if the legal world is suited to you before you sign on for the time and expense of law school. Either way, paralegal work is demanding, challenging and rewarding.
Just like lawyers, paralegals can choose a specific area of the law that interests them. You may be the kind of person who is passionate about the environment or someone who understands and empathizes with difficult family law and custody issues. You may choose to go into the booming field of intellectual property or decide that you’d like to become part of a large corporate law practice. Or you may decide that the world of high profile criminal law is what really interests you, in which case you probably want to go to work for a defense attorney.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
The paralegal is responsible for researching, preparing discovery, interviewing, and supporting the lawyer(s) on the case with efficiency and knowledge. In a high profile case, you will help the attorney with pretrial work including interviewing clients about their personal history, their career, education, family and any previous legal problems. You will also help with the investigation of the case facts and the people involved peripherally.Other responsibilities can include searching records, getting hold of proper documentation and drafting new documentation, and sometimes even strategizing with the lawyer about the approach to the case. The paralegal may also put their own abilities to assess people to good use and assist in jury selection. In any and all actions, the paralegal is expected to reflect the ethics of their firm.
Role in High-Profile Cases
Probably the most famous case involving a paralegal is, surprisingly, not criminal. The Erin Brockovitch case is famous partially because it was made into a popular film, but even more because Brockovich, while actually still only a file clerk in a law firm, became an activist who helped build a successful case against Pacific Gas and Electric for having contaminated local drinking water and causing serious illnesses to occur.
But it’s more likely that a high profile case will be a criminal case, especially one which – like the Jodi Arias or O.J. Simpson trials – fascinates the media and the public. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “three-ring circus” applied to some high profile cases. If that’s an accurate description of the high profile trial atmosphere, then the paralegal is definitely one of the ringmasters. What Skills do Paralegals Need?
Having an inquisitive mind is a great tool for success as a paralegal; the paralegal who becomes curious about why some small fact in one document is missing completely in another, or why there are contradictory explanations about the same incident from two different sources can keep on digging and may even turn up new evidence. With some courtroom experience, he or she should recognize and identify strategies being used by opposing counsel and perhaps even gauge the direction of the judge.
Paralegals need very good people skills, and this is especially true in high profile cases where it’s expected that there will be a lot of temperament and drama on display. The good paralegal will be able to deal skillfully with everyone – including clients – who is a part of the legal team; that means quickly recognizing certain personalities and knowing how to handle them. This can be very stressful to handle, so it pays to know what kind of person you are and how you function under pressure before deciding to work for a lawyer or firm that handles a lot of high profile cases.
According to Online Paralegal Programs, which provides an overview of the profession and its requirements, paralegals earn, on average, about $51,990 a year, with some jobs paying more (the top ten percent of paralegals make around $75,000 a year)and some less. The field is open, with the number of paralegals expected to increase up to 17% by 2022.
In order to get to those high profile cases, you will need a degree and experience. The Paralegal College at Brighton College offers two paralegal degrees – a Paralegal Diploma, which is a one-year course, and a Paralegal Associates Degree, which is a two-year course. They also offer continuing education classes, which is a great advantage in a field that deals consistently with changes and new laws.