In today’s cultural environment, where the legal profession is ripe with activity and cases involving every field from medicine to commercial construction, attorneys simply cannot do without their legal assistants, popularly known as paralegals. While paralegals cannot give advice directly to clients, represent them in court, establish fees or sign court documents, the list of what they can do is impressive. Moreover, while many paralegals currently have either 2-year associate’s or 4-year bachelor’s degrees and/or paralegal certification, there is no doubt that those with paralegal certification and a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or any related field, such as criminal justice, have the most career options. Accordingly, employment in the field often leads to continuing education for paralegals so that they may become certified or enhance their degree status.
Certification generally involves passing an examination and possessing at least a year of working experience. College courses for credit towards a more advanced degree, on the other hand, include such special areas as litigation and trial practice, criminal law and procedure, real property, personal injury, and business organizations. Then too, courses are offered in domestic relations as well as trusts, wills, and estate administration, with bankruptcy, and administrative law being others of importance. As many law firms have special areas of practice and require their lawyers to seek continuing education, it is unsurprising that many also reward paralegals who do the same. Not only is teamwork enhanced, but the pursuit of additional knowledge is becoming more and more necessary for those involved in legal careers.
Often beset with heavy case loads, lawyers do not have the time to do everything necessary to prepare for cases themselves. Thus, they turn to paralegals to assist them, particularly in the resolution of lawsuits. Good legal preparation in connection with a lawsuit involves thorough investigation regarding facts of a case. Clients and witnesses must also be interviewed, pleadings drafted, and deposition notices, subpoenas, motions, and briefs issued, to say nothing of organization and management of files, documents, and exhibits. All of these are tasks for paralegals, and the more experience they have, also credits from continuing education, the more tasks they are likely to be given. In direct correlation, their salaries generally reflect the amount and depth of the tasks they routinely perform.
As paralegals may assist during hearings, arbitration, mediation, even closings, and trials, it is understandable why a continuing education course in litigation and trial practice, for instance, would serve them well. Such a course provides in-depth coverage of the litigation process from pre-suit investigation to the final, or appeal, stage. With emphasis on not only the lawyer’s role, but also the duties that are likely to be delegated to a competent legal assistant, it is clearly the kind of continuing education that benefits paralegals, rendering them more valuable to their employer. Similarly, pursuing advancement through courses in specific fields, such as bankruptcy or contracts, would be advantageous too, as these are important facets of most law firms today regardless of size.
Of note too, paralegals may work for other than law firms; they are often employed by government agencies or legal departments of corporations, for example, where elements of law must be understood and followed, often communicated. Clearly, a wide open field with many opportunities, CNN Money, online home of Fortune and Money magazines, ranked the paralegal’s job as one of the 20 best in the U.S. today. As legal fees continue to rise, paralegals are likely to become even more in demand for those tasks once only able to be carried out by higher priced attorneys.
Thus, continuing education for paralegals is likely to yield many positive outcomes, broadening knowledge to add to the excellent organizational, communication, research and writing skills that make up the profession’s foundation. With so many job options to explore, any additional education is well worth pursuing for those whose intent is to shine brightly in the paralegal field.