Ex-post-facto law
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This‌ ‌article‌ ‌is‌ ‌written‌ ‌by‌ ‌‌Yash‌ ‌Kapadia‌.‌ ‌This‌ ‌article‌ lays out the scope of a paralegal’s work in the United States of America. 

Disclaimer: The data and content for this article have been taken from a ton of opportunities (posted on LinkedIn) in the U.S. for different kinds of paralegal work and their requirements. 

Introduction

If you are considering becoming a paralegal in the United States of America (USA/US), this could be the best time to make your move into this field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals earned a median annual wage of about $53,000 in 2020, and demand for this role is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade. 

Through this article, we shall ascertain what is meant by a paralegal and what is the scope of their work in the USA. Furthermore, what skills are needed to become a paralegal are also enlisted, which go hand in hand with job descriptions that display what is expected from the paralegals, often released by law firms and companies. The information in this article with respect to skills required is sourced from various job openings and descriptions of paralegal roles put up by law firms, companies, independent lawyers on LinkedIn. 

Definition 

After the American Bar Association’s (ABA) midyear meeting in February 2020, the House of Delegates, the ABA’s policy-making body, adopted a new definition of paralegal, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Paralegals. The current definition reads as follows:

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 legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

The updated definition removes the term “legal assistant” which was included by the House of Delegates in 1997 in order to reflect parlance that more precisely represents the type of work that paralegals are expected to perform.

California Code, Business and Professions Code describes who can use the title of a “paralegal”. Chapter 5.6 enlists what all cannot be done by a paralegal and also enlists that at least one of the many qualifications enlisted is required in order to legally qualify to practice as a paralegal. The states of North Carolina and Wisconsin are also considering similar proposals for paralegals. The states of Maine, Indiana, and South Dakota also have defined the terms for paralegals. In fact, Maine’s definition has gone a step further and has provisions of fines for misuse.

It is pertinent to note that paralegals are qualified to execute their responsibilities by completing an educational program and receiving training on the job. They also have the choice of learning through actual work experience. However, paralegals are not licensed like qualified attorneys or lawyers. Paralegals are expected to do substantive legal work that can otherwise also be completed by attorneys or lawyers. It is to be noted that clerical work does not include the meaning of substantive legal work. Also, attorneys are responsible for every legal work delegated by them to paralegals and have a duty to supervise paralegals’ work in their best interest. 

Types of paralegals in the USA 

Many have an image of a paralegal doing only research or probably proof-reading, vetting, and editing legal documents. However, paralegals in the US engage in a lot more than general research and proofreading. As mentioned above, paralegals are expected to do substantive legal work and that does not in any manner include clerical work. 

In general, paralegals assist other attorneys for court trials, negotiations, corporate, finance meetings, and closures of transactions or disputes. In larger corporations and companies, paralegals provide their expertise in one of their many departments like legal or finance. Some paralegals also work for government organisations like the United Nations. There are various types of paralegals that law firms, companies, and individual attorneys hire. Some possible careers of paralegals are listed below: 

Corporate Paralegal

Corporate law becoming one of the most common areas of the law selected by lawyers to practice in has also become a common area for paralegals to provide their knowledge and assistance in. Corporate paralegals assist licensed attorneys in corporate transactions, corporate resolutions, and various other industry-specific tasks needed in order to work smoothly on a particular transaction. This also means that depending on the clientele, paralegals must also have relevant work experience in that particular field say energy, pharma, finance in order to be well conversant with industry-specific transactions and corporate procedures. 

Skills to be developed & expectations of the employer

Skills required to tick, in order to be a perfect fit for this role would include strong research and writing skills. Sufficient knowledge about all stages of corporate transactions along with preparation of documents required to comply with federal, state, and local regulations. However, it is expected that a corporate paralegal should assist in the preparation of all documents required to form business entities that include companies, not-for-profit organizations, partnerships, and limited liability companies like Memorandums and Articles of Associations and in the preparation of documents for amendments, withdrawals, mergers and acquisitions and dissolution of companies and partnerships. A paralegal is also expected to support his team in preparing SEC filings that relate to securities offerings and responding to the requirements of the Securities Acts filings for clients running financial corporations. 

Lastly, a corporate paralegal also gets the exposure of working with attorneys in preparing for various corporate transactions including upcoming IPOs of companies. 

Law firms like Sidley Austin, Ropes, and Gray, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are few law firms that provide a thorough corporate paralegal experience of the work mentioned above and these firms are currently hiring for the same role.1

  1. Intellectual Property Paralegal 

An intellectual property (IP) paralegal provides assistance to lawyers with filing patents, trademarks, copyrights, and IP litigation. An IP paralegal can assist licensed attorneys in a variety of cases in this field. An IP paralegal can work if any person wants to patent their latest invention or even in a case wherein a company has been sued for copyright infringement. 

Skills to be developed & expectations of the employer

Certain interpersonal skills like good communication and sufficient knowledge of which scenarios amount to infringement are needed to be identified by a paralegal. This position also includes working with different clients who are on various sides of intellectual property arguments. A paralegal for the litigation position will be expected to conduct in-depth research, draft various applications, manage appeals, provide status reports to lawyers, track progress, and communicate with clients on a daily basis. A paralegal who handles the transactional part will be expected to have excellent research skills and also drafting skills which may be needed to assist in drafting first drafts of legal opinion, IP agreements, royalty sharing agreements, production agreements, patent landscape report, a trademark registration application or report, cease and desist notice or a response to it, etc.2 Most IP paralegal job descriptions ask for a bachelor’s degree and previous experience in the field. It’s a growing field with paralegals specializing in niche fields like only trademarks, patents, or copyright-related work.3 

On a brighter note for IP paralegals, this industry is expected to increase by 10% by 2029. As a result, employers can expect a good pool of applicants and paralegals can expect competition for each job. Therefore, more focus shall be put forth towards acquiring skills and making the job of the senior attorney easy so that value can be created from even a paralegal’s end. 

There are various opportunities doing the rounds of law firms and companies that are looking for IP paralegals which can be accessed here. The roles offered vary now in-office, remote as well as hybrid working with a hefty remuneration and added benefits. 

Litigation paralegal 

Litigation is a field that shall never go out of fashion. When transactional attorneys make mistakes in contracts or if they end up in any kind of breach or any other scenario, it leads to litigation. Litigation paralegals have to be very good at all kinds of laws so that they can provide their assistance to different teams of a law firm or even a corporation when there are pending cases that need to be closed. 

Skills to be developed & expectations of the employer

Skills required for being a litigation paralegal are in-depth knowledge about all stages of a dispute life-cycle i.e. the litigation process of that particular state. From the very start of an application through the discovery and trial and along the way of post-trial findings if any and ending with an order by filing an appeal, if the need arises. A litigation paralegal shall be given the responsibility to document facts of the case followed by factual research, preparing and attending depositions and trials along with licensed attorneys and noting the findings from the same and successfully acting as a liaison among internal departments and outside or opposite law firms.4 

Litigation paralegal roles generally require adequate experience in the field. However, junior litigation paralegal role vacancies can be targeted for entry-level paralegals.

There are abundant litigation paralegal roles currently available on Glassdoor wherein renowned firms like Kirkland Ellis, Latham and Watkins are looking for paralegals to assist their attorneys to do the aforementioned legal work. 

Bankruptcy paralegal

Law firms represent four types of clients under any banking transaction. They are debtors, creditors, committees or trustees. A bankruptcy paralegal navigates a debtor through a federally approved process that allows him or her to be relieved of that debt by negotiating a deal with creditors and the court. A single bankruptcy transaction can involve many steps like attending client meetings for both parties and taking notes and making records thereafter, drafting relevant applications, petitions, and schedules, conducting searches to establish stressed and distressed assets. Some bankruptcies can be very complex and involve additional steps of varying degrees of complexity for which paralegals may be allotted work relating to research on these complexities. Paralegals also work for creditors and have similar responsibilities as those who work in a corporation’s legal department. 

Bankruptcy paralegals have a complex job profile due to the vast areas banking transactions are made across. 

Skills to be developed & expectations of the employer

Skills required for this position would include excellent knowledge about the rights, liabilities of debtors, creditors, committees and trustees. A bankruptcy paralegal is expected by a recruiter to gather and review information from a client, prepare drafts of the petitions and further respond to questions from creditors and other interested parties. They are expected to provide services to the bankruptcy estates and assist their seniors with the sale of assets or assist the senior attorneys in adversary proceedings against or by the estates and manage the claims objection process. Paralegals need to further establish timelines for filing financial reports and prepare liquidation analyses for the reorganization plan. They assist in the preparation of pleadings and fixing cutoff dates for filing proofs of claim. 

Paralegals that represent creditors must expect the following duties: gathering and analyzing information regarding the debtor’s unsecured and secured debts, reviewing monthly financial reports filed by the debtor to ascertain their finances, track developments in a case, assist in the examination and analysis of the debtor’s records, assist in preparing liquidation.6 

Paralegals representing trustees must expect the following job duties: preparing applications and orders for retaining auctioneers, appraisers and accountants, overseeing documents production and control in various contested matters or proceedings against them, analyzing and preparing objections to claims against them, preparing applications and orders that layout details of the dates for filing administrative claims. A bankruptcy paralegal is also expected to assist his team in bankruptcy litigation by preparing first drafts of pleadings necessary for the sale of assets.7 

Some of the most well-known law firms5 specializing in banking and restructuring transactions are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Milbank, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Affiliates (Tier 2). There are often roles of a paralegal as well as legal assistant roles in the banking and restructuring team of these firms which one can keep an eye on through their websites. 

Immigration paralegal 

Immigration paralegals tend to provide their assistance to immigration attorneys who specialize in helping clients/immigrants navigate immigration laws to obtain visas to become naturalized citizens or legal residents of the US. Paralegals often help to solve other immigration-related issues like they assist attorneys who help US citizens complete their adoption process of children from abroad i.e. outside the US. Immigration paralegals also work for law firms, corporations, or government agencies that have specialised teams devoted to immigration-related issues. Immigration paralegals generally assist attorneys and help clients through the process of becoming a naturalized citizen, a legal resident, or to help a US citizen go through the immigration process for adopting a child from abroad and even assistance that is needed in a deportation process. They typically assist attorneys in researching the facts and laws involved in every case followed by writing reports and assisting lawyers during trials, if the matter reaches the Court. 

Skills to be developed & expectations of the employer

Skills required by an immigration paralegal job may require a good proficiency with specific immigration and naturalization forms like H-1B, Blanket L-1As and L-1Bs, I-140, TN, and PERM applications. Knowledge of specific immigration software like LawLogix or INSZoom may also be requested.8 Possessing Bilingual skills is highly recommended and preferred by recruiters so that communication with clients becomes easier. An immigration paralegal is expected to have sufficient knowledge of immigration forms, how to fill them out, and how to file them. They are expected to report to the immigration program manager, collaborate with the other or opposite side immigration attorneys, overviewing the caseload from intake through processing and filing. Knowledge on how to prepare applications for permanent residency and secondary benefits for foreign nationals is necessary.9 

Lastly, processing and filing nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions in complex situations is an added advantage for a paralegal. Immigration paralegals are niche in their approach as they are already very few in number but the future looks bright for them as more and more people are immigrating to western countries like the USA and Canada. Therefore, immigration paralegals, who have sufficient knowledge on how they could help an immigrant to set up their new base there would have a well-paid job too. 

Top firms to target of the many immigration law firms10 one wants to work as an immigration paralegal or assistant are Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP, Mayer Brown which often has openings for paralegal roles through LinkedIn. These firms list the aforementioned skills in their paralegal job descriptions in order to shortlist their paralegals. 

Conclusion

We are now well conversed with the fact that paralegals have a humongous amount of work to do which requires a plethora of skills that need to apply. Being a paralegal gives you a headstart in consonance with your goals. There is something called a thin wedge entry wherein you can get your foot in the door, which means you get the opportunity to create relationships, develop understanding about things. You can build advantages that help you to get to the next step that is hard to otherwise achieve. Building a deep network with even 2-3 quality people who are in your team would help you reach your goals in the legal field even if you’re a paralegal. In drawing things to a close, there is no better time to be a paralegal after various companies, law firms, consultants require people having knowledge mentioned throughout this article even remotely. Location is no boundary today to get your work done. Therefore, even if a paralegal wants to work remotely across different platforms and build his own clientele across geographical boundaries, it is possible today and is only going to go upwards. 

References


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