The Important Role of a Paralegal

The paralegal plays an important role on any legal team. They help support lawyers during trial and to prepare for cases. The paralegal is the heart of a law firm as they are taking on more responsibilities formerly given to legal secretaries and entry-level lawyers.

The increase need for paralegals and legal assistants is partially due to an increase in incarceration and the need for Internet savvy individuals. Become a paralegal or legal assistant and start a rewarding career helping others while being an integral member of a legal team.

What a Paralegal Does

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals use computer software for managing and organizing the increasing number of documents collected during a case. Paralegals investigate cases, conduct research, organize documents, gather evidence, summarize reports, draft correspondence, get affidavits, file legal documents and communicate with people involved with the case.

Paralegals’ Increased Responsibilities

Paralegals and legal assistants are increasingly performing not only traditional paralegal duties but also some of the tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries. Also, paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers despite performing a wide variety of tasks once done by entry-level lawyers.

Growth Rate of Paralegal Jobs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Many things are increasing the need for paralegals including an increase in incarceration and the Internet as a tool for research.

Increase in Incarceration

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the incarceration rate of prisoners in US jails has increased four times since 1972. The total number of prisoners in 2012 was 2.23 million, the highest in the world. The biggest increase has been seen in federal prison where they house people for federal crimes including robbery, fraud, drugs, weapons and immigration. This increase in incarceration has spurred the need for more legal assistance, lawyers, public defenders and paralegals.

The War on Drugs

One of the main drivers of the increased incarceration rate was the war on drugs that has changed legislation causing harsher penalties for drug abusers. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, trends in drug arrests grew sharply in the 1980s, when the federal government declared a war on drugs. “The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.” In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of severe penalties that rapidly increased the prison population. We still see the effects of these harsher prison sentences today. This increase in drug arrests helped drive the need for legal assistance and paralegals.

Internet and the Law

Nonprofits and government entities have put almost all of the raw materials of American law online. Google is making that law easier to find. With more access to legal regulations and law, paralegals are expanding their skill set to Internet professional.

The increase of virtual law firms has also spiked the demand for paralegals. Much of what the virtual law firm needs is research, administrative support and client interface. More companies like Legalzoom and RocketLawyer have pushed the envelope on virtual law firms and the increased need for paralegals.

Both companies are usually hiring paralegals to join the company. What the paralegal position does at Legalzoom:

  • Thorough review and analysis of commercial contracts.
  • Implementation, management, and maintenance of the company’s contract management system.
  • Ability to review, understand, and synthesize common contract provisions.
  • Maintenance of legal department forms and contract clause library.
  • Work closely with technology, finance, and marketing to initiate, negotiate, and complete contracts and administer other legal department operations.
  • Craft summaries and communications for core corporate functions.
  • Assistance with production and organization of subpoena response materials.
  • Monitoring and assistance with regulatory filings
  • Assistance with regulatory compliance, due diligence, and legal support for our finance team
  • Letter preparation and event coordination

Whether it be the increase in incarceration rates or the increase in technology, there is a growing need for paralegals that will continue over the next 10 years.

Interested in becoming a part of a legal team as a paralegal or legal assistant? The Gwinnett College diploma and degree programs in paralegal studies provides students with the theoretical and practical knowledge and the legal skills necessary to perform many paralegal functions including research, writing, investigation, and interviewing.  Paralegal studies students gain knowledge of the paralegal and legal assistant’s role in areas such as tort law, litigation, criminal law, civil law, real estate, bankruptcy, wills/trusts & estates, and domestic relations. Theoretical and practical knowledge of how a traditional legal office operates on a day-to-day basis is also included as part of the training.  Contact us today to learn more about becoming a paralegal or legal assistant.