Paralegals help lawyers and notaries by doing legal work that doesn’t require the same level of knowledge and responsibility. They are an important part of a legal team.
Lawyers and notaries rely on paralegals the way doctors rely on nurses. Paralegals do work that lawyers and notaries would otherwise have to do themselves. This lets lawyers and notaries spend their time on more complex legal work.
Paralegals must be reliable. They do research, gather information and give their conclusions about cases. But they’re not allowed to give opinions to clients or represent them in court.
Paralegals have many skills. They’re trained to do a lot of work that helps lawyers or notaries get their work done faster. For example, they can do research and summarize judges’ decisions and transcripts of what witnesses have said. What they do depends on whether they work in a big law firm or a small one.
Good paralegals have these skills:
- detail-oriented to find precise information that lawyers and notaries can rely on
- write well so they can prepare legal documents for lawyers and notaries
- able to analyze and summarize laws and judges’ decisions, and identify the important information
What paralegals do depends on where they work. These are some of their duties:
- write drafts of legal documents
- research laws, judges’ decisions, legal textbooks and other sources (for example, to find arguments that will convince a judge)
- do some work that legal secretaries do, especially if they work in a small firm
Paralegals can work in law firms, notarial firms, legal departments of companies, for courts or the government, and other places.
But no matter where they work, they spend lots of time doing research using a computer.
To become a paralegal, you usually need a Diploma of College Studies (DEC) in paralegal technology. This is a three-year program offered by many public and private CEGEPs in Quebec. There are programs in English and in French. Graduates of this program also work in courts, public organizations and governments.
Some employers don’t require a DEC in paralegal technology and prefer to train their paralegals themselves.
The salary of paralegals is based on their experience, responsibilities and where they work, for example, in a company, the government, a law firm, etc.
Recent graduates can earn about $30,000 a year. Some very experienced paralegals who work in big law firms can earn up to $90,000 a year.
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