A paralegal may opt to pursue a career path in a legal department at a corporation or organization. Large companies, corporations and large non-profit organizations often have an in-house legal department that serves to handle their legal needs, including lawsuits, advising executives on legal matters and assisting with employee contract negotiation.
Legal departments can be found in the following settings:
- Large Companies – Large corporations and other businesses maintain an in-house legal department to offer legal advice and assist with business dealings, real estate issues, antitrust allegations, insurance matters, lawsuits and contract negotiation and drafting, among many other tasks.
- Media – Media companies and media organizations such as magazines, newspapers, radio stations, television stations and even large websites will have an in-house legal department.
- Organizations and Non-Profit Groups – Large organizations and non-profit groups will maintain a legal department to provide legal advice and to handle matters such as employee contracts, taxes and property.
Formal accreditation is generally required for paralegal jobs in a legal department. According to a review of online job postings for corporate legal departments, most employers expressed preference for candidates with a college education, such as a 2-year associate’s degree in a paralegal studies program or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in an area of study such as business.
In 2010, the median paralegal salary was $46,680, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Similar to paralegal positions in government offices, paralegals in a legal department setting have greater-than-average earning potential since they are often required to work overtime. Unlike a private practice, a corporate legal department’s attorneys and paralegals must handle each and every issue or case that’s referred to the department. This can result in overtime since the workload may exceed that which can be accomplished in a typical 40-hour work week.
What’s more, corporations in particular tend to offer extremely competitive salaries and benefits packages. This makes these positions very desirable among paralegals.
Selecting a Position as a Paralegal in a Legal Department
Corporate legal departments are ideal for paralegals experienced in contract negotiation and drafting contracts, since the department must handle employee contracts and negotiations with unions. This sort of position is also suitable for paralegals with experience or a desire to gain experience in the area of lawsuits, related legal proceedings and research. And, of course, much of a legal department’s dealings involve corporate law. In addition, very large corporations are more apt to deal in antitrust law.
Media corporations and organizations’ legal departments typically deal in all of the issues that are observed in a traditional corporate setting. In addition, the legal department caseload often involves entertainment law, intellectual property law and telecommunications law. So an interest or experience in these areas will be useful to a paralegal who wishes to work in this niche. The subject matter is quite varied, as is the scope of duties.
The legal departments that exist in an organization or a non-profit organization are very similar (in structure and function) to a corporate legal department. The primary differences surround issues relating to non-profit status. In this setting, paralegals tend to a wide scope of duties. In general, non-profit organizations tend to be a bit more conservative in their pay rates when compared to large for-profit groups or corporations.
Regardless of setting, the attorneys in a legal department frequently advise the company executives, organization board members and employees on how to avoid lawsuits and other legal problems. Therefore, a paralegal’s job entails a significant amount of research in this setting. Strong research skills are vital, and a general knowledge about legal precedents and case law can prove quite useful to a legal assistant who is working in a legal department.
A career in a legal department is ideal for a “jack of all trades” type of individual who enjoys a fast-paced work setting.