The field of law requires a lot of time and hard work. Paralegals or anyone interested in this field must be cognizant of the fact that though the workload in working in this field can be heavy and they are not given the same merits as lawyers, they are an essential part of the legal system. Paralegals perform most of the duties of a lawyer except for presenting a case in court. The research it takes to put together a sound case is done by a proficient paralegal. Some of what it takes to put a case together involves assisting lawyers for court hearings, trials, meetings and closings. Paralegals also arrange reports, keep up to date with government regulations, review laws, track legal files and conduct extensive research.
The work it takes to prepare for court and meetings does not outweigh the other tasks that paralegals are expected to perform. For example, the assist with drafting contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements. They help to prepare tax returns, keep office financial records and coordinate the functions of other office employees. Of course, specific job duties vary by employer.
The job description of paralegals is also determined by the type of organization. For example, a paralegal working for a corporation would:
1. Aid with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock option plans and employee benefit plans
2. Prepare and file financial reports
3. Prepare forms for loans
4. Check government regulations
5. Supervise projects
6. Serve as a communication link between the team and corporation
A paralegal working in the public sector may:
1. Examine legal material
2. Keep reference files
3. Carry-out research
4. Gather and examine evidence
5. Prepare material on laws, regulations and policies
6. Represent clients at administrative hearings (if permitted by the law)
While there are libraries with a vast array of legal documents, with the advent of computers and computer software, paralegals have to be able to use these efficiently. As such, they should possess the technology savvy needed to carry-out their duties. Computer software and the internet are utilized to research literature kept in databases and on CD-ROM. If a project requires a lot of supporting documentation, paralegals use databases to attain, systematize and catalogue information. Computer software also allow for document scanning, tracking hours for client payments and tax calculations.
With the many functions of a paralegal, the competencies required to effectively perform the job include the ability to carry-out research and analyze data, critical thinking capabilities, planning and organizing skills, information monitoring, communication skills, the ability to tolerate stress, interviewing skills as necessary to interview witnesses and document information, management skills including time management, basic computer skills, detailed knowledge of legal terms and principles and an attention to detail and accuracy.
To summarize, paralegals are assistants to attorneys. Their functions vary based on the employer and the type of organization. In essence, they are responsible for collecting information, check facts for validity and drafting various legal documents. They provide the foundational work for lawyers to aid them in their duties. There are many opportunities related to this particular field and learning can be easily transferred to becoming a legal attorney in the future.
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