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A paralegal is someone who does a broad range of legal work but is not a lawyer. While that description is vague, so are the duties of a paralegal. The majority of paralegals work in law offices, but many work for government agencies, corporations or trade unions. All paralegals, regardless of place of employment, have the education and training to perform work requiring knowledge of the legal system and legal process.
A professional paralegal embarking on a career should obtain certification from the Institute of Paralegals. Such a certificate is highly valued by employers and will increase an applicant’s chances of employment and rise in the legal field. When working toward certification, it is best to concentrate on one area of interest (litigation, corporate law, probate, etc.). As a “specialist” in a given legal area, a professional paralegal will stand out and be in greater demand.
A paralegal may be required to attend to administrative duties such as telephone work and arranging for meetings. Typical job requirements also include drafting and proofreading of legal documents, writing letters and taking notes at court. Some paralegals do extensive legal research, manage case files and interview clients. With increased experience, a professional paralegal takes on a more senior role and greater responsibilities.
Paralegals working for law firms usually specialize in a specific practice area, such as crime, family law, probate, etc. Law firms rarely hire a paralegal who has not taken the Legal Practice course and has a minimum of six months of experience. Getting a job without experience can be difficult, but generous salaries and interesting work make the effort worthwhile.
Corporate in-house legal departments are more apt to hire a paralegal without experience and do their own training. For a paralegal, that path represents an excellent stepping stone toward a promising career.
Local and central government have many employment opportunities for paralegals, although these agencies usually have different job titles. They frequently hire inexperienced employees and arrange for their training. Many offer good salaries and excellent work experience.
With proper certification and training, paralegals face excellent career choices with some of Britain’s most prestigious law firms.