The newest member of the legal profession
Paralegals (or legal assistants) provide many of the same services as lawyers, but one thing they can't do is present cases in court. However, they'll often assist lawyers in preparing for court, and might be responsible for investigating and preparing cases, preparing documents, writing arguments and speeches and assisting with trials.
There are also a number of functions that paralegals can perform independently, so it's no surprise that many people now seek out their assistance, for less cost than an actual attorney. Some of these tasks include:
- Preparing legal forms such as mortgages, contracts and trusts
- Estate planning
- Tax preparation
- Legal administration
Recently, many paralegals have started opening up their own firms to provide these services. However, most will still find positions as consultants in private firms or government agencies.
Legal assistants often accept corporate positions, where they offer consultation and advice on a variety of legal and regulatory matters, such as:
- Consultation and analyzing business contracts
- Tax preparation and audit assistance
- Consultation on government and legal requirements and compliance
- Analyzing and organizing stock options and benefit plans for employees
Corporate businesses take advantage of the knowledge and experience of paralegals, in order to preclude the need for lawyers and their associated fees. These services include everything from filing paperwork to providing advice on policies that will keep the organization out of litigation.
As is found in many positions, the expected salary of a paralegal depends on the type of employing organization. Of course if you start up your own firm, you can set your rates - however, they'll have to be in line with other local firms or you won't be able to garner any business.
On average, a paralegal can expect to earn anywhere from $35 000 to over $60 000 a year. State governments tend to pay the least, federal governments the most and private organizations somewhere in the middle (and depend on size and function).