Formal paralegal accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) is required by most employers in local, state and federal offices. Accreditation is achieved by taking an ABA-approved training course, then passing an accreditation examination.
Notably, there are other entities that provide paralegal accreditation, including regional or state bar associations and private, ABA-accredited programs. But according to a number of online job listings, ABA-accreditation appears to be preferred in this particular career path.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the most in-demand paralegals have completed a 2-year associate’s degree in paralegal studies program or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a related area of study such as pre-law. Virtually all government law offices require a college degree in addition to formal accreditation.
Generally speaking, jobs at the federal level tend to be the most selective. There are fewer positions available and the federal law offices tend to handle situations and cases that are more serious or complex in nature.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median paralegal salary was $46,680 in 2010. It’s important to note that paralegals are often required to work overtime in order to meet deadlines and legal regulations. Unlike a private practice, a government law office does not have a choice when it comes to taking on a new case or a new client. Therefore, it’s possible that the office’s workload may exceed that which can be accomplished in a 40-hour work week. So in this setting, legal assistants are more apt to work overtime. This can significantly increase earning potential.
Selecting a Position as a Paralegal in a Government Law Office
There are many factors to take into consideration when opting to work for a government law office. The best fit will depend upon an individual’s personal preferences, interests and experience.
Individuals who are interested in criminal justice, prosecution and the courtroom are most apt to enjoy a career as a paralegal in the AG’s Office, the DA’s office, a prosecutor’s office or with the Department of Justice. Individuals who prefer to focus on legal defense may opt for a position with a public defender’s office. In these positions, a legal assistant will likely spend a great deal of time creating presentations, creating and submitting legal documents, organizing exhibits and providing a supporting role in the courtroom. These positions are ideal for paralegals who have experience working for or who plan to work for a criminal defense attorney in private practice.
Paralegals who enjoy the family law specialty may consider working for their state’s department of Children and Families (the precise name varies according to the jurisdiction; another common name is the Department of Social Services.) Legal assistants will assist with cases, clients and situations involving child custody and child welfare, child support and child support enforcement, low-income housing, senior citizen welfare and other social services.
Paralegals who enjoy finance and tax-related law may consider a career with the IRS or the Department of Treasury, whereas individuals who have an interest in insurance, healthcare, medicine and malpractice may opt for a position with a state or federal healthcare program like Medicare or Medicaid.
Those who enjoy civics, property and real estate law, contract negotiations, bylaws and environmental law, may consider a job with a City Attorney’s Office or a Town Counsel’s Office. A city attorney or town counsel represents the city/town and its interests in the courtroom, in contract negotiations and in other legal proceedings. A paralegal who works for the city attorney will be required to tend to a wide array of tasks, ranging from drafting contracts and agreements to assisting in the courtroom.
They also oversee bylaw creation and amendment, so paralegals who choose this career path may spend time drafting bylaws and performing research. The city attorney or town counsel also offers legal advice and information to city/town employees, departments and the town’s committees/boards. Their legal assistants often research local regulations and precedents. This job path is great for legal assistants who wish to gain a wide breadth of experience.