Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. Paralegals and legal assistants are found in all types of organizations, but most work for law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies.
The paralegal profession has grown tremendously since its introduction in the 1960s. Now there are more than 256,000 paralegals working in the United States. Additionally, paralegal jobs are projected to grow by 18% from 2010-2020. 1
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited March 05, 2013).
The paralegal job description is as wide and varied as there are attorneys, corporations, government agencies, and other entities that employ them. Perhaps this is a testament to their value and versatility. However, legal organizations and associations have established concise definitions to help clarify and standardize the paralegal profession and the paralegal’s role.
According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc.:
a paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.
As is evident from the above definition, education is an important, if not the most important, component determining the qualifications of a paralegal. CALS designs its paralegal programs and its curricula to ensure its graduates not only meet, but exceed, the educational requirements necessary for a successful and rewarding paralegal career.
Essentially, with education and experience, paralegals are qualified to perform legal work that is customarily done by a lawyer, and for which a lawyer is ultimately accountable. Paralegals do, however, hold the responsibility of providing accurate, concise, ethical and timely work to their supervising lawyer and their clients. National surveys indicate the following duties are most common among the responsibilities of a paralegal:
"Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law."