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The Basics of Being a Paralegal

If you've ever needed legal help, you may have interacted with a paralegal before. At a minimum, you probably benefited from their work! A paralegal helps lawyers to provide legal services. 
Paralegals may:

  • Conduct legal research, including looking up statutes, regulations, and legal opinions
  • Gather and summarize information and evidence
  • Draft legal briefs, pleadings, motions, and other documents
  • Organize evidence and case files
  • Talk with clients and witnesses
  • Take notes, schedule meetings, and do other administrative tasks

By law, paralegals can't give legal advice, set fees, or represent clients in court. However, they are crucial to the legal process. Their work is invaluable to cases proceeding efficiently and effectively.

5 Popular Paralegal Career Paths

Paralegals have many options when planning their careers. Plus, the legal field evolves in response to changes in the industry and broader society. Here are five example career paths.

  1. Joining a Law Firm: Law offices need paralegals to help their teams create legal documents, research relevant laws, and prepare for trial.
  2. Working for a Corporation: Corporate legal departments hire paralegals to assist with contract review, compliance, intellectual property, and other legal issues.
  3. Serving in Government: Paralegals may support attorneys in local, state, or federal government agencies. 
  4. Supporting a Nonprofit: Paralegals can work for nonprofit organizations, such as legal aid societies or advocacy groups. They may help lawyers to assist underserved populations or fight for issues like civil rights, environmental protection, and social justice.
  5. Doing Legal Consulting: Some paralegals operate on a freelance or contract basis. They may work with lawyers in person or virtually.

10 Common Paralegal Specializations

Paralegals often specialize based on their interests, skills, and goals. Some keep the same focus throughout their careers, while others explore multiple specialties. Specializing in a specific area can increase a paralegal's expertise and make them more valuable to employers in that niche. Here are a few of the options available. 

  1. Civil Litigation: Civil litigation occurs when one party seeks compensation from another following a dispute. Paralegals in this field help lawyers prepare for litigation. They may draft complaints, answers, and pre-trial motions, prepare witnesses and evidence, and conduct preliminary investigations.
  2. Corporate Law: Corporate paralegals work on tasks involving contracts, mergers and acquisitions, securities regulations, and corporate governance. They may assist with corporate filings, due diligence reviews, and documentation for business transactions.
  3. Real Estate Law: Paralegals in this specialty help with residential and commercial real estate transactions. They know about rules and procedures for titles, closings, mortgages, lease negotiations, and evictions. These paralegals may find jobs at law firms, real estate agencies, title companies, or property management companies.
  4. Family Law: Family law paralegals assist with cases and documentation related to divorce, marriage, child custody, adoption, paternity disputes, and domestic violence. 
  5. Estate Planning and Probate: Paralegals in this specialty collaborate with lawyers to draft wills, trusts, and estate planning documents. They also help to settle estates and resolve inheritance disputes.
  6. Intellectual Property Law: Intellectual property (IP) paralegals provide support in matters related to patents, trademarks, and copyrights. They may work on patent and trademark applications, intellectual property litigation, and enforcing IP rights.
  7. Immigration Law: Immigration paralegals assist attorneys in helping individuals obtain citizenship and other immigration benefits. They may gather documentation, work on completing immigration forms, and communicate with the government on behalf of clients.
  8. Criminal Law: Paralegals in criminal law assist defense attorneys or prosecutors with criminal cases. They may prepare pre-trial pleadings, interview witnesses, and support trial and post-trial proceedings.
  9. Employment Law: Employment law paralegals assist with workplace disputes, discrimination claims, wage and hour compliance issues, and other employment litigation. 
  10. Environmental Law: Paralegals in environmental law focus on environmental regulations, compliance, permitting, land use planning, and environmental litigation.

Pursue a Paralegal or Legal Studies Degree at South University

Our Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies and Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies programs are designed to prepare students for entry-level paralegal and legal assistant roles.* Each program features specialized legal coursework, practical training, and a supervised externship in the legal field.

Request information today to learn more!

*South University does not promise or guarantee employment.