1. What is a paralegal?
A paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience
who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental
agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive and
procedural legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. (ABA). Substantive work
shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and
communication of relevant facts and legal concepts. (NFPA). Procedural work shall
mean work requiring recognition, evaluation and communication of relevant dates,
methods and procedures enumerated in the rules of procedure and court rules.
2. What can a paralegal do?
A legal assistant/paralegal cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court,
set a fee, or accept a case, which functions are generally considered the practice
of law. Working under the supervision of an attorney, the legal assistant's work
product is merged with and becomes part of the attorney work product. In communications
with clients and the public, the legal assistant' s non-lawyer status must be
clear. A legal assistant may perform any function delegated by an attorney, including
but not limited to the following:
Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client,
so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal assistant,
and the legal assistant works under the supervision of the attorney.
Locate and interview witnesses.
Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research.
Conduct legal research.
Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or
administrative hearings and trials with the attorney.
Author and sign correspondence provided the legal assistant status is clearly
indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions
or legal advice.
Professionally, a paralegal's time for substantive legal work (as opposed
to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way
as an attorney's time, but at a lower hourly rate. (NALA)
3. Where can a paralegal work and what types
of work will be done at a particular place of employment?
Paralegals are found in all types of organizations, but most are employed by
law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government offices. In these
organizations, they may work in all areas of the law, including litigation, personal
injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property,
labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. Within specialties,
functions often are broken down further so that paralegals may deal with a specific
area. For example, paralegals specializing in labor law may deal exclusively
with employee benefits.
The duties of paralegals also differ widely based on the type of organization
in which they are employed. Paralegals who work for corporations often assist
attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans,
and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial
reports, maintain corporate minute books and resolutions, and secure loans for
the corporation. Paralegals often monitor and review government regulations to
ensure that the corporation operates within the law.
The duties of paralegals who work in the public sector usually vary within each
agency. In general, they analyze legal material for internal use, maintain reference
files, conduct research for attorneys, and collect and analyze evidence for agency
hearings. They may then prepare informative or explanatory material on laws,
agency regulations, and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public.
Paralegals employed in community legal-service projects help the poor, the aged,
and others in need of legal assistance. They file forms, conduct research, prepare
documents, and when authorized by law, may represent clients at administrative
hearings. Paralegals in small and medium-sized law firms usually perform
a variety of duties that require a general knowledge of the law. For example,
they may research judicial decisions on improper police arrests or help prepare
a mortgage contract.
Paralegals employed by large law firms, government agencies, and corporations,
however, are more likely to specialize in one aspect of the law.
Several other occupations call for a specialized understanding of the law and
the legal system, but do not require the extensive training of a lawyer. These
include law clerks; title examiners, abstractors, and searchers; claims adjusters,
appraisers, examiners, and investigators; and occupational health and safety
specialists and technicians. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook
4. What other skills do paralegals need?
Computer use and technical knowledge has become essential to paralegal work.
5. What will a paralegal earn for a salary?
Earnings of paralegals and legal assistants vary greatly. Salaries depend on
education, training, experience, the type and size of employer, and the geographic
location of the job. In general, paralegals who work for large law firms or in
large metropolitan areas earn more than those who work for smaller firms or in
less populated regions. In May 2006, full-time wage-and-salary paralegals and
legal assistants had median annual earnings, including bonuses, of $43,040. The
middle 50 percent earned between $33,920 and $54,690. The top 10 percent earned
more than $67,540, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $27,450. Median
annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of paralegals
Management of companies and enterprises...............................$52,220
In addition to earning a salary, many paralegals receive bonuses, in part, to
compensate them for sometimes having to work long hours. Paralegals also receive
vacation, paid sick leave, a 401 savings plan, life insurance, personal paid
time off, dental insurance, and reimbursement for continuing legal education.
In the metropolitan Portland area, the mean hourly rate for Paralegals and Legal
Assistants is $21.30, with a mean annual salary of $44,540. In less populated
areas of Maine Paralegals and Legal Assistants will find lower mean salaries.
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 edition).
6. Has the Recession had an effect on the Paralegal
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals and legal assistants
held about 238,000 jobs in 2006. Private law firms employed 7 out of 10 paralegals
and legal assistants; most of the remainder worked for corporate legal departments
and various levels of government. Within the Federal Government, the U.S. Department
of Justice is the largest employer, followed by the Social Security Administration
and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A small number of paralegals own their
own businesses and work as freelance legal assistants, contracting their services
to attorneys or corporate legal departments.
Despite projected rapid employment growth, competition for jobs is expected to
continue as many people seek to go into this profession; experienced, formally
trained paralegals should have the best employment opportunities.
Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 22 percent
between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Employers are trying to reduce costs and increase the availability and
efficiency of legal services by hiring paralegals to perform tasks once
done by lawyers. Paralegals are performing a wider variety of duties, making
them more useful to businesses.
Demand for paralegals also is expected to grow as an expanding population
increasingly requires legal services, especially in areas such as intellectual
property, health care, international law, elder issues, criminal law, and
environmental law. The growth of prepaid legal plans also should contribute
to the demand for legal services.
Private law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals,
but a growing array of other organizations, such as corporate legal departments,
insurance companies, real estate and title insurance firms, and banks also
hire paralegals. Corporations in particular are expected to increase their
in-house legal departments to cut costs. In part because of the range of
tasks they can perform, paralegals are also increasingly employed in small
and medium-size establishments of all types.
Job prospects In addition to new jobs created by employment growth, more job openings
will arise as people leave the occupation. There will be demand for paralegals
who specialize in areas such as real estate, bankruptcy, medical malpractice,
and product liability. Community legal service programs, which provide assistance
to the poor, elderly, minorities, and middle-income families, will employ
additional paralegals to minimize expenses and serve the most people. Job
opportunities also are expected in Federal, State, and local government agencies,
consumer organizations, and the courts. However, this occupation attracts
many applicants, creating competition for jobs. Experienced, formally trained
paralegals should have the best job prospects.
To a limited extent, paralegal jobs are affected by the business cycle. During
recessions, demand declines for some discretionary legal services, such as planning
estates, drafting wills, and handling real estate transactions. Corporations
are less inclined to initiate certain types of litigation when falling sales
and profits lead to fiscal belt tightening. As a result, full-time paralegals
employed in offices adversely affected by a recession may be laid off or have
their work hours reduced. However, during recessions, corporations and individuals
are more likely to face problems that require legal assistance, such as bankruptcies,
foreclosures, and divorces. Paralegals, who provide many of the same legal services
as lawyers at a lower cost, tend to fare relatively better in difficult economic
7. What library resources are available?
There is access to legal research library facilities as well as online research
8. What is a certificate program?
Certificates are not required in most states for those who wish to become paralegals.
Certification is voluntary, as are degree programs. Certificate programs increase
a paralegal's skill set or prepares him or her to enter the profession, often
increases the likelihood of a paralegal's hire or promotion, and serves to identify
a person capable of work that is on par with certain standards.
9. When will classes be held for the Paralegal
Studies Certificate program?
Classes at the Westbrook campus will be held Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
or Thursday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and some Saturdays.
Classes at the Bangor campus will be held during a combination of day and evening
10. Is financial aid available for the Paralegal
Financial aid is not currently available for the certificate program. However,
those students that register for the A.S. or B.S. programs in Paralegal Studies
would be eligible for financial aid.