In What Fields Of Law Do Paralegals Work?
For every specialty a lawyer has, a corollary specialty for a paralegal exists. Each of these areas of law is a specialty that a paralegal can choose to study and ultimately practice. A brief description of the major specialties follows:
A litigation paralegal may work in any matter that involves a lawsuit filed in court. In other words, a real estate matter may end up in court, or a business dispute may end up in court. Because of this diversity, litigation is interesting since you may work in several fields of law. You may be working on a medical malpractice suit one day and a case involved a construction dispute another day. Litigation paralegals do much drafting of pleadings filed in court, letters to opposing counsel, research memoranda, and discovery documents.
One of a paralegal’s most important tasks is helping lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and client meetings. Paralegals might investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered. They also identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases. After they analyze and organize the information, paralegals may prepare written reports for attorneys to use in handling cases. If attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions for filing with the court, obtain affidavits, and assist attorneys during trials.
Paralegals also organize and track files of all-important case documents and make them available and easily accessible to attorneys. You must become familiar with the federal, state, and local court system, their statutes, cases, and rules. Your attorney may ask you to conduct research, do investigations, analyze and organize information, and prepare reports.
Usually, you work one-on-one either with an attorney or with a litigation team. You can use computer software packages and the Internet to search legal literature stored in computer databases and on CD-ROM. In litigation involving many supporting documents, paralegals usually use computer databases to retrieve, organize, and index various materials, a process known as litigation support and e-discovery. Imaging software allows paralegals to scan documents directly into a database, while billing programs help them to track hours billed to clients.
You also may work on class actions that involve numerous documents and requires that you are familiar with eDiscovery and litigation support software. Excellent written communication skills are required to document and present findings and draft legal documents. You may use computer software packages to perform tax computations and explore the consequences of various tax strategies for clients.
The tasks of paralegals differ widely according to the type of organization for which they work. A corporate paralegal often assists attorneys with employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and employee benefit plans. They also may help prepare and file annual financial reports, maintain corporate minutes’ record resolutions, and prepare forms to secure loans for the corporation. Corporate paralegals often monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new requirements and is operating within the law. Increasingly, experienced corporate paralegals or paralegal managers are assuming additional supervisory responsibilities such as overseeing team projects.
A corporate paralegal assists the attorney on corporate transactions, securities filings and compliance, corporate governance, and research. During those processes, he handles many corporate forms such as, those required for incorporation, preparing minutes, annual reports, portfolios, stock certificates, and many reports. Corporate law also affects other areas of law, such as contracts, real estate, bankruptcy, and many others. For example, in order to purchase real property, investors often form a limited liability company (LLC) to effect the purchase, thus taking advantage of some personal liability protection. This field can truly affect every person, such as the small-scale Mom-and-Pop diner just set up on the corner or the energetic entrepreneur looking to start her own business. On a larger scale, you may have corporations merging with other corporations or your local bank acquiring a new bank (and therefore requiring you to learn all the next bank’s technicalities) someone has to prepare the documents to finalize those transactions. That is corporate. It is intense, it is intellectually challenging, and it is extremely rewarding.
3. Real Estate (Residential and Commercial)
In residential real estate, the paralegal has significant client contact and must gather information for each transaction, prepare diverse documents, keep records and make checklists to ensure that each detailed step is complete. Experience with Excel spreadsheets and math helps with preparing detailed closing documents and balanced reports.
In addition to this preparatory work, paralegals perform many other functions. For example, they help draft real estate contracts, mortgages, and numerous closing documents. Both residential and corporate paralegals get involved with “boilerplate,” or template forms. However, paralegals must review documents carefully to make sure each provision fits the facts of the current project. Then they must review the checklist for other items that may be missing. Commercial real estate primarily involves transactions from the developer’s perspective, primarily in the representation of real estate entrepreneurs and equity partners in the development, purchase, sale, and related financing of income producing properties.
4. Intellectual Property (Trademark, Copyrights, and Patents)
An intellectual property paralegal has a myriad of tasks, including preparing patent and or trademark status summary reports, trademark and service mark registration applications, renewal applications, Section 8 and 15 affidavits, and reviewing patent filings with engineers.
The IP paralegal may draft responses to the trademark-examining attorney’s official actions, registered user agreements, powers of attorney, copyright applications, licenses and agreements regarding proprietary information and technology. In addition, the IP paralegal maintains the docket system for due dates for responses, renewals, opposition, Section 8 and 15 filings, use affidavits, and working requirements, payment of patent annuities in foreign counties, and files of new products and invention development.
Another part of the IP paralegal’s tasks is conducting patent and/or trademark searches, technical literature for patent/trademarks, researching procedural matters, case law and unfair competition matters, prior art, patents, and trademarks. Assist in opposition, interference, infringement, and related proceedings. Other tasks include arranging for visual aids, models, and mock-ups for trial use. All of these tasks involve communicating with foreign trademark attorneys and agents about registrations, officials’ actions needing response, and trademark services.
Another important task is preparing paperwork and doing meticulous research as to a possible conflict or superior right in the use of the name, symbol or trademark not only in this country, but also on a worldwide basis if the client has an international company. In addition to the use of the name, you may do research as to possible conflicts in trademark law in the various countries where the client’s product is to be used. This is a highly specialized area of law and requires specific training.
Bankruptcy paralegals gather and compile detailed and voluminous information and documents from clients and files to use in drafting and filing bankruptcy petitions, schedules, proofs of claim, UCC filings, motions, and monthly operating reports with the court, and to prepare exhibits that for use at trial. They maintain a calendar and tickler system to ensure that important deadlines are met and to check records and review claims. In addition, Bankruptcy paralegals handle routine calls and correspondence to creditors, creditors’ committee chairperson, attorney, and trustee.
Responsibilities also include briefing clients on general procedures about bankruptcy court hearings. Bankruptcy paralegals also draft motions for avoidance of liens and reaffirmation agreements and arrange for their execution, draft, serve, and file debtor’s monthly financial statements in Chapter 11 cases, file complaints in adversary proceedings, and file attorney’s fee applications. In addition, they draft judgment searches for appropriate offices, drafts requests and analyze information as to real estate owned by debtor; prepare lien priority exhibits for use in trial. Paralegals assist in conducting real property searches and ordering appraisals. They review clerk’s docket and claims register. Often, Bankruptcy paralegals attend Section 341(a) meetings and Chapter 13 Plan confirmation hearings. They maintain log to check off discharge and status of bankruptcy.
6. Probate and Estate Planning
If a paralegal is trained properly, she can be invaluable to an attorney in interviewing clients to gather information for preparing detailed probate forms. She maintains a calendar system. In addition, the paralegal reviews creditors’ claims, performs financial calculations, prepares and files probate documents in the administration of estate or to relieve the estate from administration, surrenders insurance policies, files life insurance claims and other death benefit claims. Drafts state inheritance tax and federal estate tax returns. In addition, she drafts numerous documents, including but not limited to real estate documents, contracts, assignments, and modifications, UCC statements, amendments, extensions, and terminations, closing statements, equalization form, closing index and binder, and many more.
The paralegal will work closely with the deceased’s family and must be cognizant of the client’s emotions during this situation, but can be quite helpful to the bereaved client by gathering information that the attorney needs and doing whatever she can to make things easier for them and the attorney.
7. Criminal Law
There are two sides to criminal law: the prosecution and the defense. As a paralegal, you may work in the district attorney’s office (the prosecutor) or the public defender’s office. In addition, you may work in such as the courts, sheriff’s office, and numerous governmental offices, such as the attorney general’s office numerous other areas. You will be involved in conducting initial interviews with the client, pretrial procedure, discovery, jury selection, jury instructions, witnesses, trial, and post-trial procedure.
8. Family Law
A typical family law case involves many different issues that can be interrelated. The attorney may ask the paralegal on such a case to handle many diverse tasks. From custody to property distribution, the family law paralegal faces a wide range of cases at a generally fast pace. The average family law attorney carries from 50 to 100 cases, and each time has its own unique set of facts and deadlines. A paralegal in this area of law often has to wear many different hats including, but not limited to, therapist, organizer, and financial analyst.
If the paralegal works for several lawyers, she must also learn how each lawyer wants things done. One of the most difficult aspects of family law is handling the client’s emotions. The paralegal must manage these emotions as a part of the case. The client may be especially sensitive about one issue over another for reasons that the paralegal may not be aware of without asking. Getting behind the client’s motivation for wanting a certain item of property, of a specific day visitation, is necessary. Part of the attorney/paralegal function is to help the client break through the emotion to see the practical angle to their case. This field of law is much like practicing medicine—you cannot get too emotionally attached or involved with the clients you help serve, because you may lose perspective. The family law paralegal will not only handle much client contact but also, the preparation of documents, many of which are forms published by the court. Family law that involves litigation generally has the same elements as any litigation case, but with a different focus. There are similar documents and tasks.
9. Administrative Law (workers’ compensation and social security)
Social security disability is one area of law where paralegals can actually represent clients in court. Workers’ compensation is similar to personal injury in many ways and is where the client (the worker) is injured on the job. Most of these cases are settled out of court before trial. You will be involved in computing actual medical damages and loss of wages. The attorney will usually do the negotiating.
10. What Are Government Paralegals’ General Duties & Tasks?
The duties of paralegals who work in the public sector or government usually vary by agency. In general, litigation paralegals analyze legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for attorneys, and collect and analyze evidence for agency hearings. They may prepare informative or explanatory material on laws, agency regulations, and agency policy for general use by the agency and the public. Paralegals employed in community legal-service projects such as, legal aid, help the poor, the aged, and others who are in need of legal assistance. They file forms, conduct research, prepare documents, and, when authorized by law, may represent clients at administrative hearings.