What Is a Paralegal? (Plus Responsibilities and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Paralegals are an essential part of legal teams. If you are interested in becoming a paralegal, you may take certain steps to better prepare yourself for such a role. Learning about the paralegal profession may help you decide if this position is the right fit for you. In this article, we discuss what a paralegal is, describe what they typically do, list the various types of paralegals and share a list of strategies you may employ in order to become one.

What is a paralegal?

A paralegal is a person who is a legal assistant to an attorney or a law firm. This person helps with the work that is associated with the legal profession, including research, filing documents and interviewing witnesses.

The paralegal must complete all of these tasks within the appropriate time frame in order to maintain a high level of quality in the work. Paralegals provide support for attorneys by gathering information from third parties and presenting the information to them through interviews and reports as needed.

What does a paralegal do?

Here is a list of common paralegal job responsibilities:

  • Obtaining information from third parties and creating reports and legal documents

  • Filing legal documents, such as tax returns, bills and other legal forms

  • Sharing information with attorneys through meetings

  • Coordinating with attorneys to keep them informed of the work

  • Maintaining files on cases for future reference or for the benefit of other attorneys in the office

  • Meeting with clients and taking notes during these meetings

  • Preparing legal documents, such as summons, subpoenas and complaints

  • Interviewing witnesses in order to obtain information

  • Travelling to court appearances and other meetings as needed

  • Coordinating with secretaries in order to ensure that they complete all the tasks in a timely manner

  • Helping with the organisation of files in order to make them easier to access by attorneys and others

  • Performing other tasks as required by the law firm or attorney

Related: What Does a Corporate Lawyer Do? (And How To Become One)

Types of paralegals

Here is a description of several types of paralegals:

  • Legal assistant paralegal: A legal assistant paralegal is someone who a lawyer or law firm employs and their main responsibility is to help the attorney, including the administrative tasks that are required of them. They usually handle some of the research and preparation for cases that are being worked on by attorneys in a law firm.

  • Litigation paralegal: A litigation paralegal assists attorneys with a lawsuit and their main responsibility is to support the attorney in court appearances. This person may take notes and assist with taking evidence from witnesses during these court appearances.

  • Corporate paralegal: A corporate paralegal works in a corporation within the legal department and they are responsible for managing the files for the company in order to offer support to attorneys as needed.

  • Legal aide paralegal: Legal aide paralegals don't work directly with an attorney and instead obtain employment through a public legal help office or by a legal clinic. Their job is to assist people with legal problems, including helping them fill out documents and other tasks that are involved with the preparation stage of their lawsuit.

  • Government paralegal: A government paralegal works for a government agency, including helping with the compilation of tax records and other matters that are related to the legal department of the local or state government.

  • Mediation paralegal: A mediation paralegal assists with mediations, which occur when parties in a lawsuit are able to come to an agreement without going to trial. Their job is to assist with notes during these mediations and also with organising evidence if it is being used during the process.

  • Subpoena clerk: A subpoena clerk is responsible for helping with the preparation for court appearances, which are required of an attorney in order to defend his or her actions. The person who is in charge of this task is usually the paralegal within such a case because they have more experience than other employees in the office and they understand exactly what needs to be done in preparing for court appearances.

Related: Attorney vs. Lawyer: What's the Difference?

How much does a paralegal make?

The average salary for paralegals is $75,010 per year. Your salary may increase depending on your relevant education, work experience, skills and your employer. For example, if you have previous professional experience working as a paralegal, you may be able to get a higher salary.

Related: How To Become a Lawyer in Australia

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal secretary?

While both might do some of the same tasks, the primary difference between a paralegal and a legal secretary is the level of responsibility that each has. A paralegal sometimes has more responsibility for carrying out certain tasks than a legal secretary.

In most cases, however, both report to an attorney and help them by performing research, interviewing parties involved in cases, such as witnesses or clients, preparing forms for court filings or other legal documents they need to complete their work.

Is a paralegal a solicitor?

A paralegal is not a solicitor, which is another term for an attorney. A solicitor is someone who an attorney or law firm employs that acts as a legal assistant to that lawyer or firm. In most cases, however, a paralegal only assists attorneys in the office by completing some of the tasks that are required to meet the deadlines set out in the case.

Paralegals don't have the ability to make decisions on behalf of their attorneys, so this is why they are legal assistants instead of solicitors.

Related: What Is a Legal Advisor? (Definition, Skills and Career Steps)

How to become a paralegal

There are several strategies you may employ to become a paralegal, below is a description of each strategy:

1. Attend a paralegal training institute

Paralegal training institutes are institutions that offer instruction on the paralegal role. You typically do this as part of a course at an educational centre. The basic course consists of four to six months, with the actual time period depending upon the program and how much time you can allocate to completing the course content.

2. Complete a certification course

Certification courses are held by some firms that hire paralegals on a regular basis. These are designed to give you specific knowledge and skills about the work that you may be doing, such as how to handle specific situations while in court appearances or other matters where someone is making a legal claim against you. Some universities have paralegal certification programs that you can enrol in.

3. Pursue an internship

An internship is a great way to gain the experience that you need to help you find work as a paralegal. As an intern, employers may give you some of the tasks of a paralegal, which gives you the opportunity to see what it is like to work in such a position. An internship can also provide you with networking opportunities, which can prove useful after your year-long placement has finished.

4. Volunteer

Volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience in paralegal positions and it may also help you know what you really want to do with your career. Also, doing volunteer work can provide you with some networking opportunities, which may lead to employment with a law firm or other similar organisation. For example, you may seek a volunteer position working for an attorney or a law firm.

5. Work as a court clerk

Working as a court clerk may give you opportunities to learn more about court proceedings and prepare you for a paralegal position. Court clerks are similar to paralegals in the sense that they are responsible for taking notes during court hearings and they also handle the paperwork for their office.

These are not entry-level positions, but you might be able to move up in such a position and become a paralegal at some point after working there for some time.

Read More: How to Become a Paralegal

6. Get a part-time job in a retail or office environment

Some companies may hire part-time paralegals who don't have an academic background and need to learn the skills required for the job. If you have experience working as an office assistant or retail assistant, this may give you some advantages in finding a full-time position with a law firm or other similar organisation.

For example, a position as an administrative assistant may help qualify you for paralegal roles because such roles have some similar responsibilities.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location

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