If you want to work at a law firm, but don't want to spend six to eight years in school, a paralegal career might be for you. In this role, you prepare simple legal documents and support lawyers in a variety of ways. You will also spend a lot of time doing legal research.
Knowledge and Fact-Finding
Successful paralegals combine a basic understanding of law with curiosity and fact-finding skills. Much of a typical day is spent digging through old case files trying to find items useful to lawyers in court cases. Efficiency is critical since you normally work on multiple cases for multiple lawyers each day. A lawyer would ask for cases that help establish precedent or offer insights on how to handle a trial or court proceeding. Your job is to find relevant cases and take notes on how they apply to the current case.
Researching to find useful information is one skill -- organizing it in a way that makes it user-friendly for a lawyer is another. Each lawyer expects to receive a well-organized file that lays out case files and notes in a logical flow. You might dig for details on three cases at once and you can't afford to mix up case files and notes when submitting them to lawyers. The ability to remain organized under pressure is also important, as time is often of the essence in the middle of trials.
Analysis and Communication
Research is about collecting data and then interpreting it. A top paralegal doesn't simply gather up case documents and toss them in a folder. You also need critical thinking abilities to identify or highlight specific items within a case or document, and then explain to a lawyer how it relates to the case. To be effective, you must have strong written and verbal communication skills to help lawyers convert your findings into usable information for court.
Education and Training
Paralegals develop their research skills and other competencies through formal education and on-the-job training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies. However, some employers might hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree but no legal experience or education, and then train them on the job.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.