What is a Paralegal?

You’ve probably heard of the term paralegal before. What exactly does this professional do for work every day? Without them, attorneys would have a much harder time representing cases, but why? Let’s get straight to describing exactly just what it is that paralegals do.

General Role

If you guessed that paralegals work quite closely with attorneys, you’re definitely on the right track. Essentially, paralegals play the top supporting role for the attorneys which they work for. Attorneys act as the key representatives when it comes to court appearances and the direction that strategy takes in a legal case. Supporting them closely in this role are the paralegals.

Specific Duties

As the key supporting figure behind an attorney, the paralegal has many specific duties to care for continuously. These primary duties fall mainly into three categories in most cases. They are as follows.

Case Prep

One of the most important duties of paralegals is that of overall case prep. Preparing for a case means many things on this end. Gathering pertinent information and researching legal codes and points of legal precedent that may pertain to the case are just a few prep steps necessary here. Essentially, paralegals help “build the case”. All of this is done while reporting to and working with the lead attorney on the case.

Document Handling

The handling of key documents is another imperative role here. Not only must this professional be able to craft their own, official legal documents for court use, but they must also be able to correctly file these documents and “motions” with the appropriate court system. The correctness and validity of all documents handled here can make or break entire cases as well as the lives associated with them.


In many cases, paralegals will also work closely and repeatedly with clients and other people involved with their case. This may be by telephone, email, in-person, or by other means. In doing so, paralegals can gather all necessary information for further strategy, action, and attorney involvement.

Becoming One

Paralegals do not have to go through the same, exhaustive rigors as attorneys in attaining their ability to practice. To become one, the candidate simply must attain some basic education as well as the proper certification. Some choose to attend accelerated educational courses that often take less than a year to complete. Others take the route of earning a paralegal studies degree. Eventually and despite the schooling chosen, a certificate from the National Association of Legal Assistants, or NALA, is required.

Additional Job Specs

For those interested in some additional job specs on this particular career, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has plenty of information on the subject. According to the BLS, the median pay rate for paralegals in 2016 was approximately $49,500 per year. In addition, a healthy job outlook is expected through 2024.

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In short, paralegals perform the essentials that every attorney needs in order to keep case work running smoothly. Legal representation can be a complex matter, and it is the paralegals that handle much of that burden in getting the client the eventual outcome they desire.