Paralegals work closely with lawyers in public and private practice and assist them by performing substantive legal tasks. Specific educational requirements are not necessary to work as a paralegal, but there are several qualifications that are important to have if you want to succeed in the field. Carefully consider whether or not you have these attributes before pursuing this career path.
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Outstanding Communication Skills
Whether on the telephone, over the Internet or through the mail, paralegals are constantly communicating. As a right-hand man to the attorney she supports, every legal assistant must act as an extension of her lawyer and be great at disseminating information---whether via a letter, memo, e-mail or phone conversation. Paralegals screen and respond to communications from attorneys, courts, clients, witnesses, medical providers and other interested parties rapidly and efficiently. As part of being an outstanding communicator, a legal assistant must be able to manage ever-changing tasks in a fast-paced environment.
Excellent Orgnaization Abilities
A key qualification to be a paralegal is the ability to organise large quantities of data and documents. The law is a fact-driven enterprise, and legal assistants must be able to receive, index, summarise and organise voluminous amounts of information. Whether it's a file that contains pertinent case law or a room dedicated to important case documents and evidence, a good paralegal knows the facts and papers of each case inside and out and can find a "needle in a haystack" at the command of the lawyer she supports. Paralegals must also organise calendars and schedules by keeping up with internal deadlines, court docket dates, statues of limitations and discovery response dates. Many firms rely on legal-software-driven systems of organisation, so it is helpful if a legal assistant has specific experience using computers to manage information.
Keen Research Abilities
Building any sort of legal case takes a great deal of research and preparation. Paralegals spend a lot of time supporting their attorneys in this manner, so excellent research skills are an important qualification for the job. Law firms use specific legal vehicles, which include LexisNexis and Westlaw, to find case law and other pertinent information. Paralegals who are not familiar with these programs should at least be computer-savvy enough to pick them up quickly through training.
As of 2010, you do not need any formal type of schooling in order to work as a paralegal. As long as an attorney is willing to hire, train and oversee the person, any skilled individual can practice as a paralegal. That said, certain educational paths make it easier for an experienced person to become qualified as a legal assistant. A college education focusing on majors or minors in English, political science or criminal justice is a helpful start. Additionally, many institutions across the country offer programs that train would-be legal assistants to handle the responsibilities of paralegal work in a legal environment. People who are serious about the field as a career choice should consider attending college and earning a paralegal certification.
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