Depending on the size of the firm, a paralegal can play many roles. He can do anything from receptionist and secretarial duties to his own duties. In larger firms, the role of the paralegal generally consists of all paralegal duties, as opposed to receptionist and secretarial duties. These duties include answering the phones, taking dictation and filing.
The role of a paralegal includes drafting pleadings for the attorney. Once drafted, the pleading is presented to the attorney for his signature. The paralegal will also prepare discovery and disclosure for the particular case she is working on. The paralegal will also complete any research needed for the attorney. Depending on the experience of the paralegal, she may also sit in on consultations and other meetings with clients. The paralegal also tracks deadlines for pleadings and discovery, and may schedule hearings, mediation and meetings between clients, attorneys, the court and mediators.
The role a paralegal plays is very important in any size law office. The paralegal frees up quite a bit of time for the attorney to meet with clients and to take on more clients. Without a paralegal, the attorney would have to spend more time drafting pleadings, researching and putting discovery and disclosure packages together, eating up time that could be spent more productively from a financial standpoint.
There are many types of paralegals---each type of law firm has its own paralegal. Personal injury and family law firms need paralegals who excel in litigation and research. Insurance paralegals need to know how to research and do litigation, but more of these types of cases are settled before they go to trial, so an insurance paralegal's strong suit needs to be research and pleading drafting. While many paralegals are more experienced in a certain type of law than other types, many paralegals will know more than one area of law. Family law paralegals may combine skills to work on criminal cases, bankruptcy cases and general civil cases in addition to family law cases.
The paralegal will have a two-year or four-year degree, or in some states, may be able to work up over a period of years from a receptionist or legal secretary position into a paralegal position. Most firms require that paralegals, especially litigation paralegals have at least five years of experience.
The role of the paralegal is an important role in the law office, and can also be a stressful role. There are many times that a paralegal may have to stay overtime to complete a large package of discovery for a discovery due date or a trial notebook for an upcoming trial.