If you decide to become a criminal law paralegal, you will work for attorneys who either prosecute or defend individuals accused of crimes. The job includes substantive legal responsibilities that let attorneys devote more time to counseling their clients and making appearances in court. Most criminal law paralegals are permanent, full-time employees who occasionally work overtime to meet court deadlines. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that paralegals and legal assistants earned a median yearly salary of $46,680 in 2010.
Education and Training
You can become a criminal law paralegal in several ways. One is to complete an associate's degree in paralegal studies at a community college. Another is to combine a bachelor's degree in an academic subject with a certificate in paralegal studies from a college or university. Because more employers will favor applicants who have had some work experience, you can improve your marketability by completing a paralegal internship. Or, if you have taken courses in criminal justice, an employer might hire you after graduation and train you on the job.
Knowledge and Skills
To work as a criminal law paralegal, you need skills that are specific to this legal specialty. You must know stages of the criminal prosecution process, characteristics of certain crimes, theories of punishment and appropriate legal defenses. You must understand the concept of jurisdiction to know whether state or federal law governs a particular criminal matter. You must also become familiar with court rules so you can prepare the necessary legal documents at various stages of the case. Your employer will expect you to have strong language skills. Criminal law paralegals read factual documents, statutory and case law. They also interview clients and witnesses and speak before attorneys, court personnel and government agencies.
As a criminal law paralegal, you will work under attorney supervision on all aspects of pretrial discovery to either prosecute or defend a convicted individual. You will interview clients and law enforcement personnel for key facts of a crime. You will also perform criminal background searches, obtain police records and crime scene evidence, interview witnesses, prepare written responses to questions served by opposing counsel, draft motions to the court on evidence and procedural issues, prepare trial exhibits, and suggest questions for attorneys to ask on direct and cross-examination of trial witnesses.
The BLS expects employment of all paralegals and legal assistants, including criminal paralegals, to grow 18 percent from 2010 to 2020. That's above the 14 percent growth rate projected for all occupations. Criminal paralegals are often favored by law firms that want to reduce overhead costs and deliver legal services at more competitive rates. You are also unlikely to have your duties outsourced since you must attend court hearings and work closely with attorneys and clients.
Michele Vrouvas has been writing professionally since 2007. In addition to articles for online publications, she is a litigation paralegal and has been a reporter for several local newspapers. A former teacher, Vrouvas also worked as a professional cook for five years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Caldwell College.