As legal assistants working under licensed attorneys, paralegals play an integral part in the practice of law. Paralegals can help manage cases, interview clients and witnesses, perform legal research, draft certain legal documents, write memoranda and case briefs, prepare pleadings and exhibits, and summarize depositions and testimony. They can help with executions of wills and assist attorneys at trial. Paralegals are instrumental components of the modern justice system.
A paralegal’s range of practice can be far-reaching, from family law and prosecution to medical malpractice and personal injury. Many work in litigation-heavy practices with frequent trial practice, while others work in real estate transactions or estate planning. Outside of private law firms and government organizations, paralegals have career opportunities within risk management, compliance, human resources, employment services, land management, insurance, and banking. Career opportunities abound for today’s paralegal studies graduates.
Paralegals have a duty in their profession to help uphold justice through ethical decision making. Paralegals are often more client-facing in their day-to-day activities than attorneys, so they act as the client advocates and often as caretakers of the client relationship. They are more readily available for client communication and can help relay information, explain things simply and concisely, and be a champion for the client.
“In specialty practices, such as intellectual property, paralegals can appear in court under certain circumstances,” says Bill Weston, chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals. These paraprofessionals can also play a key role in alternative dispute resolution and can have substantial opportunities to help with pro-bono cases.
A paralegal’s days are not spent completely behind a desk, nor are they routine. Those in this profession may spend time getting to know clients, taking personal responsibility for important cases, or spending time in the courtroom.
As a key part of a legal team, paralegals must help increase the efficiency and productivity of the firm or organization. The skills expected of paralegals include strong oral and written communication along with a deep grasp of the language and industry jargon. These paraprofessionals are depended on for excellent written documents and effective communication among many parties. They must be prepared to handle conflict in a professional manner. Additionally, paralegals must be highly organized and able to use the latest industry technology and programs.
Now in its 40th year of accreditation by the American Bar Association, Rose State’s Paralegal Studies program prepares graduates to be gainfully employed and to pursue leadership positions within the field. The state of Oklahoma employs more than 2,800 paralegals, but at least 500 more are anticipated to be hired by 2024– an 18 percent increase. Across the United States, employment growth for paralegals between 2012 and 2022 is slated at 17 percent by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Obviously, the demand for these paraprofessionals is solid across the board.
Rose State is poised to accommodate this growth by producing highly qualified candidates for employment. “The Rose State Paralegal Studies program is designed to prepare a student for employment as a legal assistant or paralegal,” said Brandon Burris, director of Paralegal Studies. Students of the program, one of just four in Oklahoma approved by the American Bar Association, earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies. Burris noted that paralegals in the Oklahoma City metro area can expect to earn anywhere from $45,000 to $64,000, depending on experience.
Aside from the expertise of highly qualified professors likeattorney Adam Bush, Rose State incorporates intense ethical training as a significant part of the paralegal studies curriculum. The program also offers theParalegal Students Association, which creates networking opportunities within the local legal community, encourages academic excellence, and fosters camaraderie among paralegal students.
Students in Rose State’s Paralegal Studies program plan to use their degrees to achieve larger career goals. Leslie Jones, who will graduate from Rose State Paralegal Studies program with her associate’s degree in spring 2016, plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice before going on to law school. Delicia Reed, president of the Paralegal Students Association, will move to Boston to attend Harvard University in the fall. She credits Dr. Brandon Burris as the biggest influence during her time in the Paralegal Studies program. “He is very supportive of our endeavors in and out of the classroom. I have been able to count on him for direction and guidance in every task. He has made a difference with career opportunities and helping students support their dreams,” Reed said. She admits completing the program at Rose State hasn’t always been easy. “The most challenging aspect of the program, for me, was testing,” she said. “Law is not an easy subject, but with the support of the students and faculty, I was able to understand how the law applies to different situations, and find solutions for everyday problems.”
The Center for Legal Studies calls paralegals the “unsung heroes of the legal system,” asserting that the profession is “shaping the face of the legal landscape and turning the wheels of society.” After all, with every legal decision, our towns, our state, and our country move in a new direction. Paralegals are charged with making a difference in their offices, for their clients, and in their communities.