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Paralegal

colleges offer programs related to this career near San Mateo, CA

Career Overview

If you've ever watched a show like Suits, a series about what happens at a law firm, the portrayal of paralegals may have made you imagine a career in law. These legal professionals assist attorneys by helping them with research, drafting documents, and organizing all files necessary to build a proper case.Constructing a case to present in a court of law is a heavy task that requires team effort. As a paralegal, you would work as an attorney's MVP�"investigating facts of a case, conducting research on relevant laws, and writing reports. Furthermore, you would call clients and witnesses, get affidavits, and file briefs, appeals, and other legal documents. Without your help, an attorney might dismiss a key fact or forget to include a critical report necessary to strengthen a case. The hard work you do could also help an attorney think of new ways to present their case - you might notice something they didn't consider.The amount and kind of legal work you do depends on the law firm you work for. In a small firm, you could be organizing important files and writing reports to help attorneys determine how to handle their cases. For example, if an attorney decides to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client, you could help prepare the legal argument and draft documents to be filed with the court. On the other hand, in a larger firm, you may need to work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling the case from start to finish. For instance, you might only review legal material for internal use - maintaining reference files, conducting research for attorneys, and more.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$50,410
290,410
14.6 %
California
$57,300
30,790
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies

There are several ways for you to become a paralegal. If you have your high school diploma or GED, you could choose to enroll in a community college paralegal program to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. These programs usually combine paralegal training, such as courses in legal research and the legal applications of computers, with other academic subjects.If you have your bachelor's degree, you could earn a certificate in paralegal studies. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training and some only take a few months to complete. Many of these programs offer an internship where you gain practical experience by working for several months in a private law firm, the office of a public defender or attorney general, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, or a government agency. This internship experience helps you to improve your technical skills and can enhance your employment prospects.Though it is less common, sometimes employees hire college graduates with no legal experience or education, and train them on the job. This could happen for you, if you have experience in a technical field that is useful to a law firm, such as tax preparation or criminal justice. However, it is best advised that you complete a paralegal program to thoroughly prepare yourself and to increase your chance of being hired.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Communication Skills
Problem-Solving Skills
Computer Skills

Work Environment

As a paralegal, you will work in the law firm office and law libraries. When necessary, you will travel to gather evidence and other important documents for a case you are working on.Working as a paralegal is a full time job. Depending on the size of the case you are working on, you may sometimes need to work over 40 hours per week. If the case isn't large, you may find yourself working normal 8am-5pm hours. The work you do can vary greatly, so it's important that you adjust as best you can to the changing work load and schedule.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013