Paralegals assist attorneys with delegated work, and are a vital part of every legal team.
If you have a desire to pursue a career in legal services, becoming a paralegal is a quicker path than going to law school and passing the bar exam. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that paralegal jobs will grow by 12 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than most jobs. The demand for paralegals is high, especially in urban centers and metropolitan areas.
In just two years or less with a prior qualifying degree, you can earn your associate degree in paralegal studies and prepare to begin a career that is growing. In addition to the need for paralegals in law firms, California is expecting jobs to grow in the private sector in major cities as corporations expand and diversify their legal departments.
Even with the demand for paralegals, there are reasons you may want to specialize in your paralegal career. In this article, we’ll examine some specialized paralegal career paths, and why you might choose a specific niche.
What Role Paralegals Play in the Legal System
Here is a quick refresher on what paralegals are and what they do:
Paralegals are hired by law firms, legal offices, or government agencies to perform specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
The main role a paralegal performs is providing support for lawyers. Paralegals usually work for private law firms, local, state, and federal government agencies, corporate in-house legal departments, insurance firms, or litigation support service providers that assist private firms.
Paralegals are not allowed to practice law or give legal advice to clients or represent clients in court. Their role is support for an attorney, and they are an important part of any legal team.
Why Specialize as a Paralegal?
Paralegal certification shows that you are qualified to be a generalist paralegal. In your paralegal career, you may want to deep dive into specific fields. This may be because you enjoy those specific fields, and feel passionate about them, or enjoy that type of law. Specializing in a field of paralegal work also allows you to learn more about those fields than a generalist paralegal might not learn. This may be advantageous when seeking a position or negotiating salary in that paralegal field. Experience and education are the two main ways to specialize in a particular paralegal discipline.
11 Types of Paralegal Specialties to Consider
Here are eleven of the most common specialized paralegal fields in which you may choose to build a career.
1. Corporate Paralegal
A corporate paralegal usually works in-house for a single organization, rather than for a roster of clients. Their work is rarely in public, but rather behind the scenes. Paralegals working in corporate environments advice businesses on issues like compliance, regulations, and responsibilities. Corporate paralegals may assist legal counsel on preparing contracts, as well as the formation, organization, or dissolution of corporations and entities. Paralegals in corporations also assist with the legal paperwork for mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, or lawsuits against a corporation.
2. Criminal Defense Paralegal
Criminal defense is type of legal work the public is most familiar with, via crime dramas on TV and cases in the news. A paralegal in this field works with a criminal defense attorney who is either private counsel or appointed by a government agency at the local, state, or federal level. Criminal defense legal teams work on the opposite side from criminal prosecution teams and focus on parts of the law that deal with individual rights, liberties, and responsibilities.
Paralegals working in criminal defense may end up working in a specific area of defense, such as violent crime, white-collar crimes, or narcotics charges. This specialization helps paralegals assists attorneys better through their focus and experience with the same types of cases.
A criminal defense paralegal is involved with every phase of the trial. During pretrial, they may be tasked with client interviews, gathering police reports and arrest records, obtaining medical records, gathering evidence and information, and preparing information for attorneys.
The attorney may instruct the criminal defense paralegal to draft motions and responses to discovery requests, or file documents with the court (under their supervision).
During the trial, the paralegal may update the trial notebook, including notations of motions, pleas, exhibits, lab results, and research. Post-trial, the paralegal may help the attorney prepare and file appeals, and file post-trial documents.
3. Estate Planning Paralegal
An estate planning paralegal helps clients plan for allocation of their client’s assets. These paralegals assist in writing wills, completing tax calculations on plans, drafting real estate planning documents, working with probate pleadings and deeds.
Estate planning paralegals can also help with setting up trust allocation schedules and distribution plans, helping clients manage inheritance taxes, recording deeds, and drafting beneficiary notifications.
To work as an estate planning and probate paralegal, you must first complete an ABA-approved paralegal program, and earn a certification, Associate’s, or Bachelor’s degree (depending on what state you are in). It is also recommended you intern as a paralegal for six months.
4. Banking and Finance Law Paralegal
Working in finance law as a paralegal requires that you gain knowledge of accounting, financial regulations, and banking laws and regulations. One application for this type of paralegal is when municipalities or counties issue bonds for infrastructure projects, so they do not need to take out loans. Your job as a paralegal would be to make sure the bond paperwork follows federal, state, and local regulations. You might also be required to draft contracts, deeds, financial statements, and agreements related to the issuing of the bonds.
Financial paralegals may also work in other areas like corporate law or bankruptcy law.
5. Bankruptcy Paralegal
Bankruptcy paralegals work for lawyers that represent creditors or debtors. These paralegals must be very familiar with the US Bankruptcy Code and working in the Federal Court system as bankruptcy actions can only be filed in Federal Courts. A bankruptcy paralegal will help prepare the paperwork for the debtors or creditors.
6. Family Law Paralegal
If you have exceptional interpersonal skills, family law might be a good fit for your paralegal talents. Family law paralegals assist attorneys with legal issues such as divorce, child custody, child support, property settlements, and occasionally restraining orders. Some of the tasks a family law paralegal may be responsible for include gathering evidence, reviewing assets, preparing documents for filing, interviewing clients, analyzing financial information, sending files to opposing counsel, and taking notes during hearings.
Both sides of family law proceedings are usually emotionally charged, so empathy, people skills, emotional stability, and communication skills are valuable skills for family law paralegals to possess.
7. Intellectual Property Paralegal
Paralegals working in intellectual property law focus on the protection of trademarks, patents, and other creative works and designs created by their clients. These paralegals can work in large offices or in-house for a corporation. Some work directly with firms to help secure patents and trademarks. IP paralegals may also spend time filing applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), responding to PTO actions, or helping prepare litigation in the case of copyright or trademark infringement.
8. Litigation Paralegal
Litigation is a wide area of law that deals with any legal action where one or more parties allege that they have been injured by the intentional or negligent actions of another party or parties. . In litigation, the parties are asking the Court to determine whether the injured party is entitled to some form of recourse. Litigation covers personal injury, corporate disputes, and contract disputes, to name a few.
Paralegals who work for litigation attorneys may be tasked with preparing paperwork and documents for a case, researching the details of a case, summarize depositions, or organizing evidence.
If you have exceptional organizational and multitasking skills, litigation may be a field of law in which you may want to specialize.
9. Real Estate Paralegal
A real estate paralegal usually has a real estate license, allowing them to leverage their knowledge of the real estate industry in their paralegal work. Some of the work that real estate paralegals do may include preparing real estate documents, writing rental or lease agreements, preparing contracts, auditing financial transactions, or composing letters of correspondence between the selling and buying parties.
10. Immigration Paralegal
Paralegals working in immigration law usually work in a law office or in-house at a corporation with an immigration lawyer. These paralegals may also work for non-profits helping refugees or immigrants to go through the proper channels to legally live and work in the United States. Possessing the ability to fluently speak more than one language is a plus for the immigration paralegal.
Some of the work an immigration paralegal may do includes organizing and filing visa applications, searching public access files, researching immigration/asylum law and the naturalization process, or assisting lawyers working in deportation defense. Immigration law is fast paced but rewarding work for those with a passion for this cause.
11. Personal Injury Paralegal
Personal injury paralegals assist attorneys with tort law, which deals with damages against a person or their property. Tort law is a part of civil litigation, where an aggrieved party brings a case against the damaging party for expenses such as medical bills or other damages. Personal injury cases for monetary amounts can often fall outside the jurisdiction of criminal courts, though the parties may be involved in separate criminal case proceedings. Examples of personal injury cases can include medical malpractice, wrongful death, workplace injuries, and corporate liability.
Tasks that a personal injury paralegal may be responsible for include collecting medical reports, researching insurance information, client interviews, and looking up state legislation.
Take the First Step to Becoming a Paralegal in California
The A.A. Online Paralegal Studies program at MTI College is open to students residing in California. This fully online program will let you fast track your education to becoming a paralegal in California. For more details, or to talk directly to our friendly Admissions department, call (916) 339-1500 or fill our contact form today. A representative from MTI College will be in contact with you shortly afterwards.
Please Note: The data provided above are from a source unaffiliated with MTI College, are for informational purposes only and represent the employment field as a whole. They are not solely specific to MTI graduates and, by providing the above information, MTI makes no representation, direct or implied, or opinion regarding employability.