Requirements for Working as a Paralegal in a Private Law Office or Law Firm
Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, may consider a career with a private law office or law firm. In many states, formal paralegal accreditation is required. To become accredited, an aspiring legal assistant must take a course, which concludes with an accreditation exam.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most in-demand candidates have a 2-year associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a 4-year degree in a related area of study.
In jurisdictions where accreditation is not required, private law firms may opt to hire otherwise-well-qualified candidates who do not have accreditation certificates. In fact, private law offices represent the un-accredited candidate’s best chance for employment as a legal assistant, as most positions within a corporate legal department or a city, town, state or federal department or division’s legal office are more apt to require candidates to be formally accredited college degree-holders.
Legal and Paralegal Specialties in Private Practices
A position with a private law office provides the paralegal with an opportunity to develop and hone their skills in a particular legal specialty. Every attorney has at least one legal specialty, so each lawyer’s paralegal will have the opportunity to focus on a corresponding paralegal specialty.
There are many legal specialties. The most common specialties found in private legal firms include:
- Family Law;
- Real Estate;
- Medical Malpractice / Personal Injury;
- Criminal Law;
- Tax Law;
- Antitrust and Telecommunications;
- Securities and Investments;
- Maritime Law;
- Intellectual Property;
- Employment and Labor; and
- Estates and Trusts.
There are many other legal specialties, such as prosecutor, public defender, the attorney general’s office, legislative law, corporate and corporate finance law, but these specialties are typically seen in other settings, outside the realm of private practice.
As a research-intensive career, a paralegal’s daily tasks will be colored by their firm’s niche, so it’s important to select an area of specialty that’s interesting to the individual. Related experience in a particular field can make a paralegal more marketable and desirable. For instance, an accredited paralegal with a real estate license would be a shoo-in for a legal assistant position at a practice that deals in real estate law.
Tasks and Duties of a Paralegal Working in a Private Practice
As a legal assistant, one’s duties will vary according to a few factors, such as the size of the law firm and the legal specialty. At a smaller practice, the paralegal works with just one or two attorneys and performs a wide range of tasks and duties. Conversely, at a large law firm, they work with many lawyers, and their duties fall within a narrow scope.Legal specialty also impacts the paralegal’s duties.
In a private practice setting, a paralegal’s tasks may include the following:
- Clerical – Legal assistants frequently do a great deal of clerical-type work, including filing and organization, emailing and communicating with clients, completing forms and documents which are then submitted to the courts, another attorney or a client.
- Research – The paralegal may be asked to perform research into bylaws, case law, precedents or regulations. In some instances, the legal assistant may be asked to collect information or perform research into a specific situation, company, group, entity or individual as it relates to a specific case or client.
- Courtroom – Paralegals play a very vital supporting role in the courtroom, as they are charged with taking notes, creating presentations, organizing exhibits, and tending to documents.
Paralegals may work directly with the client or they may work behind the scenes. An individual with a wide variety of skills and experience may be best suited to working as a paralegal in a smaller law firm, where the paralegal’s duties tend to be more diverse and varied. Conversely, paralegals who have a highly-refined skill set that falls within a narrow scope may prefer to work at a larger firm. Paralegal teams are more often found at large law firms, so a narrower scope of duties is more typical.