If you enjoy television shows centred around law firms and the scandals they deal with (Suits, anyone?), you surely have come across the word ‘paralegal’ before. With the emphasis always being on the top lawyers and their daily duties, we never get to quite see – and understand – what a day in the life of a paralegal actually looks like.
What is a paralegal?
‘Para’ is a prefix of Greek origin, which in this context means to be beside or next to. That very much describes a paralegal’s role in relation to a lawyer. A paralegal will often sit with a lawyer in meetings or in Court to take notes or otherwise assist a lawyer in their day to day duties.
Most paralegals have either undertaken a law degree or are working towards finishing one. Think of them as apprentice lawyers. When lawyers start their professional journey, they often enter the market by either becoming a paralegal, a legal assistant, or an intern.
What degree do you need to be a paralegal?
A degree is not a necessary requirement of being a paralegal. Some of them are able to undertake their duties with on-the-job training or by undertaking a paralegal course. Although very rare, some of them choose to remain paralegals for their entire career rather than to attempt to qualify as a solicitor – a qualified legal professional who defends a client’s legal interests.
Paralegals are unregulated in most jurisdictions, meaning they don’t need a license to assist the lawyer, as long as there is a lawyer there to supervise their work and have final sign off on any work they produce.
What do paralegals do?
Paralegals usually work alongside legal assistants but undertake more complex tasks. They often undertake legal drafting, the perusal of documents and legal research.
The job of a paralegal can be varied and exciting or exceedingly boring and dull; this very much depends on what sort of work they are given by their lawyer(s) or the area of law they practice in. If this career path is of interest to you, then make sure you do some research on the firm before agreeing to join: it will give you a few insights as to what the daily job would look like.
A good paralegal can be an incredibly valuable asset to a firm, as their work requires a high degree of intellect, legal knowledge and attention to detail.
The future of the paralegal job
The job of a paralegal is being increasingly threatened by automation. Some of the tasks that they have traditionally undertaken, like perusal and research, are now being automated using sophisticated software.
The automation of these tasks will remove some of the necessary drudgery which is involved in legal work but will also lessen the opportunities available to young law students seeking a foot in the door in the legal market. Many career experts will say taking a coding course is the way to go, but unfortunately this is unlikely to be helpful. The key skills that paralegals and lawyers will be valued for in the future are likely to be creativity, logic and empathy combined with the ability to apply those skills to a vast amount of legal knowledge.