Paralegals serve an invaluable role in the legal field and are an in-demand career according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which predicts a 10% growth rate from 2019-2029. They not only assist lawyers in creating legal documents, but they are instrumental in conducting legal research to prepare for court cases. The BLS reports that paralegals have an average annual salary of $51,740.
With the paralegal career growing, many misconceptions also begin to arise. Much of this stems from a misunderstanding of what a paralegal is or what they do. Here are some common misconceptions about paralegals:
1. Paralegals can give legal advice
Although paralegals have an above average knowledge of the law, they are not lawyers. If a paralegal were to offer well-meaning legal advice to a family member or friend, it could be a major ethical or legal breach. However, this does not mean that paralegals can’t put their knowledge to good use to help others!
As a paralegal, you can refer family and friends to someone who can assist in their situation. You might be able to help find someone in your network of connections who could help and make an introduction.
2. Paralegals are secretaries
Many people think paralegals act as glorified secretaries for lawyers. While paralegals do complete some simple tasks, other duties can be quite complex and challenging. While secretaries typically focus more on clerical and administrative duties for a lawyer or organization, a paralegal does much more than that.
A paralegal’s job consists of working with legal documents that both the paralegal and a lawyer are responsible for. They handle in-depth assignments that require extensive legal research and analysis to understand. Paralegals also attend depositions and hearings and prepare trial and deposition notebooks. Although they may not be lawyers, they have extensive knowledge of the law. Some of their other responsibilities could include:
- Gathering information via phone
- Establishing case files
- Interviewing experts and witnesses
- Drafting legal documents
3. Paralegals have knowledge in all areas of law
Just like attorneys who specialize in a certain field of law, paralegals often have their own area of expertise. A paralegal can choose what area of law or sector they might like to specialize in, but more often their expertise is dictated by what their supervising attorney specializes in. For example, if they work for a divorce attorney, they’ll gain a lot of knowledge about divorce law, and if they work for a bankruptcy attorney they’ll know more about bankruptcy and financial law.
There are many areas of law that paralegals could work in, including the public sector, private sector or freelance. There are numerous specializations, and some include:
- Family law
- Contract law
- Criminal law
- Administrative law
- Corporate and business law
- Real estate law
4. Being a paralegal is easy
One very common misconception is that a paralegal is an easy 9-to-5 career that does not require much education.
The legal industry is one of the most fast-paced job environments to work in. Some people find the environment exciting and others are overwhelmed by it. While some days might be slower, there will also be days that will require you to stay late or work over the weekend to complete an important assignment. An attorney may delegate a task with an immediate turnaround, so a paralegal must be quick, thorough and calm under pressure.
To be competitive as a paralegal, consider earning a degree. At Herzing University, you can earn your Associate of Science in Legal Assisting/Paralegal in as few as 20 months. Earning a degree can help you gain valuable insight into the career, make contacts in the industry and potentially open job opportunities for you.
5. Paralegals are lawyers in training
Some people mistakenly think that a paralegal is only a stepping-stone to a career as a lawyer. Although some paralegals may go on to become lawyers, others are passionate about the work they do and don’t want the added stress or liabilities that come with being a lawyer.
Remember, paralegals possess a different skill set than lawyers and take care of different responsibilities. While paralegals can’t represent a client in a courtroom, their research skills help make a lawyer’s job more effective. They play an important role in the background of law, which helps make a firm, attorneys and their clients successful.