The article is written by Stuti Jain, from Vivekananda institute of professional studies pursuing B.B.A.LLB (Hons) Course. This article explains about the scope of paralegal activities that the law students can undertake.
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If you are a law student, you must have seen the renowned American series “SUITS”. And if you have seen SUITS, you must be familiar with the word “paralegal”. Remember Racheal Zane in suits? Meghan Markle, the actress has acted in the suits as a paralegal at a renowned law firm “Pearson Spectre”. You might be, or might not be aware of how important the work of Paralegal is in the field of law. Paralegal forms the basis of a case because they are the ones who actually do all the investigation work for the cases. They are expected to do the back functions of the attorneys.
Who is a Paralegal
Paralegals are the qualified people, who work as subordinates to the lawyers. Law offices or other such agencies and perform the work delegated to them by their superiors. Their work includes researching on the precedents, investigating a caster, preparing Legal documents or providing their assistance to the lawyers. In most of the law firms, the senior associates rely on the work of a paralegal.
Duties of a Paralegal
The main duties of a paralegal include providing support to the attorneys. They assist the senior lawyers by preparing the documents and arranging them for their meetings, hearings, etc. A paralegal needs to maintain the confidentiality and decorum in the law firms they work in. However, it’s important to note that paralegals aren’t allowed to represent their clients in the court. They can just do the subordinate work. Following are the main tasks that one can expect from a paralegal:
- Collecting the documents, like evidence or affidavits
- Researching on the case, through online or on fieldwork
- Writing research papers or reports for the law firm they work in
- Draft pleadings for submission in courts
- Prepare documents like Sale contracts, property transfer papers, or wills,
- They can interview the clients or witnesses
- They review the legal documents that need to be submitted in the court of law
- Briefing about the case to their seniors is one important task they have.
These were the duties that paralegal perform. However, there are some duties that they might not be allowed to do. Providing legal advice to the clients, or representing clients in court, accepting the cases and the fee to be charged are some of the activities out of their scope. For being a paralegal, one must have outstanding research skills, for which one definitely has “patience”! A successful paralegal should have good communication skills so that he can interview the clients. Also, a paralegal should be tolerant enough to take the orders from their seniors.
Career advancements for a paralegal
In India, honestly, there is not much scope for paralegals, since most of these works that are associated to paralegals are performed by either the legal interns (students studying in law colleges and work at the firm for experience) or the new entrants who are keen to learn about the practical aspects of legal frameworks. But, If one needs employment, within a relatively short amount of time, it’s one of the best options for you.
However, companies are realising the importance of hiring paralegals. This is why recently there has been a lot of job openings or paralegals in topnotch law firms. If you are a person whose interest and passion is the law, a paralegal is one great opportunity for you. Besides being a lawyer, you can choose paralegal as another career choice for yourself. A paralegal might work in a particular law firm or such agency, or they could even work on a freelance basis and provide contract base service, say, for 1 or 2 cases. A paralegal is not certified, lawyers. Many Indian and foreign universities provide certification of a paralegal. There are several paralegal opportunities that can come in the way of a paralegal within the law firm or the agency he works in. The average salary of a paralegal in India is Rs,335,731.
Paralegals may find employment at a range of organizations, including banks, insurance companies, private law firms, professional trade organizations, real estate firms, and the legal departments of corporations. If you are a paralegal and have gained a handsome amount of experience, you could even be promoted to managerial positions of the firms. However, the need for paralegal In other countries like the USA and UK is high. The median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $51,740 in May 2019. Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 12 per cent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.
Eligibility for Paralegal and courses available
The student must have cleared class 12th, in any field, commerce, science or arts. Unlike lawyers, paralegals don’t need 5-7 year of formal education. Most of the paralegal courses or certifications are either through diploma and extend to either 1-2 years. One can even apply for an associate degree that takes 2 years. Also, there are many online programmes available for Paralegals. Even a 3-month course is available for paralegals.
- Diploma course IGNOU is the most popular University offering this course in India- It’s a 1 years course for paralegal certification.
- Diploma in Paralegal Services (D.P.S.)- by Symbiosis law school, Pune.
- Duration: One Year;
- Mode: Evening Programme.
Types of paralegals
Since the law is a diverse subject, the type of attorneys may also differ, depending on their specialisation. One may be a civil, or a criminal, or corporate attorney. Similarly, since the Paralegal work under these attorneys, there are several different kinds of paralegals. Those are mention herewith:
- Litigation paralegal: Litigation is the process of settling the dispute in courts. The main tasks assigned to such paralegals include preparing for trials, researching the precedents, interviewing witnesses and clients, assembling documents for the senior etc. Finding the key evidence to defeat the opposition is one crucial task they have. If you are a person who likes the hustle and don’t want to do the desk job, this type of paralegal option is perfect for you.
- Intellectual property paralegal: IPR is one of the most trending law subjects in India. Since everyone needs to protect their inventions and their creation of the world, Intellectual property plays an important role. IPR contains 3 basic segments- Patent, trademark and copyright. A paralegal can indulge in any of these particular fields. This work mostly requires you to do a desk job, since most of the paralegal work associated with it requires study and research work only.
- Real estate paralegal: A paralegal who specialises in this area, needs to review the sale and purchase of properties; writing lease agreements etc.
- Bankruptcy Paralegal: Since the introduction of The Bankruptcy Code 2016, the work associated with managing bankruptcy has taken a substantive turn.
- Consumer protection paralegal: It requires a deep knowledge of acts like Consumer Protection Act 2019, Sale of Goods act,1930; The Contract Act 1872, etc. interviewing clients and assisting the senior’s advocates for the trials in consumer courts is the duty expected from them.
- Corporate Paralegal: Big corporate firms have their own personal legal team for it. Issues like mergers, acquisition, competition laws, are the main arena of research that need to be performed in.
- Family paralegal: As a family paralegal, you will have to be working under family law/ civil law, and dealing with issues like divorce, inheritance, partition, determining the legality and illegality of wills, adoption cases etc. One has to be quite sensitive and patient while interviewing the clients.
- Freelance paralegal: Freelance paralegal tied up to a single firm or attorney, rather they work on a contractual basis. One can be their own boss if they choose freelance paralegal. However, one has to make sure that they have enough clients who would need their services from time to time. One can’t just start their own business of freelance paralegal if they don’t have enough contacts with the law firms and agencies. The job includes preparing the transcripts according to court guidelines, formatting contracts etc.
- Immigration paralegal: These paralegals may work with the government or otherwise in their immigration department. These paralegals have to be fluent in different languages. Beyond just legal knowledge, they must know different languages, especially of the neighbouring county’s local languages.
- Employment paralegals: The employment paralegals closely studies the employment contracts, or the laws related to non-discriminate payments, and trade disputes etc. One has to be quite pursuant and sensitive towards the labours while interviewing them. Also, fluency in local languages and human interaction skills are additional sets of skills required for the Employment paralegals.
Advantages of becoming a paralegal
- Good returns with low investment: the paralegal studies are only limited to 1-2 years of study, and that too mostly diploma or online course. This is a course that one can even do with other types of managerial or law-related courses. Hence, you wouldn’t be only confined to one course but many others. If you don’t have 5-7 years to spend studying, then, you can definitely go for paralegal certified courses. The return is also quite hefty since there are more and more openings for paralegal jobs.
- In-depth knowledge of the subject: In case you are a paralegal, you would definitely indulge yourself in intense research works. This will expand your knowledge related to the topics you are assigned. With time, you would have an immense understanding of your field, which would help you gain a high-level position in the firms you work in.
- Opportunity for growth: there is an opportunity for a paralegal to secure managerial and supervisor positions.
- Intense about of job options: Paralegals could either work in various different areas of law, or they could even choose other fields than law, like, insurance, finance, armed forces etc
- Open avenues for law schools: undertaking paralegal jobs before your law school could help you in a dual way, one, the experience counts, and the other hand, is that in case you have a finance problem, doing a paralegal job would definitely help you save the salaries from the job. This would give you an advantage over the other students applying in law schools with just graduation. Since you would have researched on so many topics, the extent of the knowledge and experience would prove to be an advantage for you. Most of the students, who aim to get into the Ivy leagues, perform paralegal jobs, and after a good amount of experience and letter of recommendations, they apply for the law school they aspire.
The job of paralegal seems to be quite fascinating since the jobs of a paralegal involve the new research, and obviously interviewing new clients in every case. If you’re someone who is inquisitive, this is a perfect job for you. It helps you in understanding human nature as well as gaining expertise in the field you work in. The need for paralegals is directly related to the demand for lawyers in the country. India definitely needs a lot of lawyers, hence, the demand for paralegals would enhance too. But, in India, there is no such job as a paralegal as such, because most of the work entrusted to a “paralegal” is done by the interns, junior associates, or Company secretary. However, it’s not a bad idea if one can do an additional certified course of paralegal since it’s hardly for 6 to 14 weeks generally.
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