A paralegal career is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in working in the legal field who does not want to become a lawyer. Paralegals work in nearly all aspects of the law, can specialise in a wide variety of areas and can assist lawyers with much of the work that they do. The career generally requires an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in a related field such as criminal justice and certification as a paralegal.
Paralegals prepare reports and correspondence, check legal forms for accuracy, organise and track files and prepare declarations and complaints. They can assist in drafting many legal documents such as contracts, mortgages and trusts. Paralegals research records, laws and prior case decisions; locate and interview witnesses and participate in investigations. They help prepare legal arguments, draft motions and pleadings, and assist the lawyers during trials. Job duties a paralegal cannot legally perform include giving legal advice, setting fees, accepting cases, representing clients and presenting cases in court.
Starting paralegals often perform a great deal of administrative duties such as retrieving and filing documents, and even photocopying. Within a few years, however, they are given more creative and interesting tasks and work more independently. Median starting salary for paralegals is about £22,555, with an increase after five years to around £28,340. They usually are paid hourly, which is of benefit because paralegals often work overtime, including nights and weekends, and receive extra compensation for those hours. Starting paralegals willing to work many extra hours can easily make an extra £3,250 or more a year.
With experience, paralegals can enjoy higher salaries, depending on the type of firm they work for and their speciality. Hospitals pay paralegals a median salary of about £30,095. Specialisation in intellectual property and trademark law have median salaries of £32,500 to £35,750, and insurance law at £32,500. Paralegals who advance to senior and supervisory positions also command higher salaries than the median. A senior litigation paralegal generally makes around £38,350, senior corporate paralegal £40,950 and a paralegal coordinator approximately £46,800. Paralegals in family law, non-profit agencies and the government make the lowest median salary at about £24,700.
In general, the larger the organisation, the higher the pay. This is true in organisations from corporations to medical facilities to law firms. Firms with over 500 lawyers pay significantly better than smaller ones, with a median salary of at least £34,450 and sometimes much higher. In addition, large law firms obtain a great deal of the complex litigation work and have more financial resources to work with on cases. For people who enjoy specialising, a large corporation or law firm offers better opportunities, where a paralegal might not only specialise in labour law but in an even narrower focus such as employee benefits or worker's compensation cases. For those who like a wider range of subjects to work on, a small firm is a better option, although the pay is significantly lower, and the work typically requires more clerical duties. Small firms often have a combination paralegal and legal secretary position.
In 2006, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70 per cent of paralegals worked at private law firms, with the others mainly employed in corporate legal departments and the government. In the federal government, the Department of Justice is the largest employer of paralegals, along with the Department of the Treasury and the Social Security Administration. Paralegals can also find opportunities in insurance companies, banks, real estate agencies and title firms.