A walk in their shoes: a day in the life of a paralegal
The number of job opportunities for trained paralegals is growing.
In fact, employment opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants are projected to grow 10% between 2019–2029, which is faster than average for most occupations.
If you’re considering a job in this field, you might be wondering what a day in the life of a paralegal looks like.
In this article, we’ll walk you through a paralegal’s day-to-day responsibilities, and we’ll show you where you can find job listings near you.
What is a paralegal?
A paralegal is a professional who supports an attorney or team of attorneys. Their responsibilities include preparing for hearings, trials, and meetings and maintaining communication with clients.
Paralegals can provide many types of legal services, but none that include officially practicing law, such as representing a client in the courtroom.
They typically work for private law firms or government agencies but can work in corporate legal departments for all types of organizations.
Working as a paralegal requires full-time hours, and, in some cases, they will work more than 40 hours a week when they need to meet a deadline.
What do paralegals do?
Paralegals are essentially tasked with anything that an attorney might need in order to practice law on behalf of a client. This includes responsibilities like:
Interviewing: Conducting interviews with clients, taking notes from those interviews, and maintaining contact with the client as questions or concerns arise.
Finding witnesses: Locating and contacting potential witnesses that might need to testify or make a statement.
Researching: Finding similar cases to assist their attorney in setting precedent for a current case, digging up documents, and more.
Investigating: Performing statistical research or reading through a variety of documents to find relevant snippets of information.
Drafting legal documents: Writing a variety of documents, including correspondence between lawyers, documents for pleadings, and more.
Here’s an example prenup, which is one type of document a paralegal might create for a marriage or divorce attorney:
Summarizing and taking notes: Reviewing depositions, listening to interrogation recordings, reviewing testimonies and other relevant documents, and summarizing for their attorney.
Attending legal events: Being present for executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, hearings, trials, or other relevant legal events.
For example, a paralegal might be present for the execution of a last will and testament, like the one below (and they may have to draft it, too):
Writing and signing correspondence with clients: Doing this if the communication, whether an email, letter, text, or phone call, does not include legal opinions or advice.
Recording hours: Recording how much time they spent on each client’s case, as attorneys often bill clients hourly, and a paralegal’s time is also billable at a lower hourly rate.
A paralegal pretty much does anything that an attorney might need in order to spend more time giving legal advice or practicing law. All supporting activities fall to the paralegal.
How can you become a paralegal?
Landing a job as a paralegal requires an associate degree or a certificate in paralegal studies.
In some cases, employers may also hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree and no legal training and train them on the job.
Many community colleges offer two-year paralegal programs, and many colleges and universities have four-year programs in paralegal studies or legal studies that would qualify you for work as a paralegal.
According to the National Federation of Paralegals (NFP), more and more employers increasingly require paralegals to have a four-year degree.
While they may hire you with an associate degree or a certificate in paralegal studies, you may be encouraged to continue studying to eventually complete a bachelor’s degree.
Both the NFP and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) recommend picking a program recommended by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The ABA is a voluntary association of lawyers that administers the famous “Bar” exam that all attorneys practicing law must pass.
The ABA has a directory of approved paralegal programs, which you can search by state to find both two-year and four-year programs.
Once you’ve chosen the state in which you’d like to study, you’ll be able to browse a list of approved programs.
From there, you’ll be able to click through to each program’s website, where you’ll find course lists, costs, and application information.
This example course list is from an ABA-approved paralegal studies program from Rowan College in New Jersey. Your required studies will differ from state to state and program to program.
A day in the life of a paralegal
While a paralegal’s day-to-day activities fluctuate depending on their attorney’s and client’s needs, we’ll walk through what a typical day could look like for a paralegal.
A morning schedule could include arriving at work as early as 7:30 a.m.
At this time, you might review your docket (a list of pending cases), check your attorney’s calendar, and check your email.
“[Getting to work early] allows me some quiet time before the day’s chaos, and to help the attorneys with last-minute morning court appearances,” said one paralegal who works for a large law firm in Bakersfield, California.
Here’s an example of a docket that a paralegal might review:
Regardless of the exact schedule, a paralegal’s day almost always begins with reviewing whatever is top priority to complete that day. This might include sorting through a large number of papers and folders on your desk and checking your email to manage your deadlines properly.
In the afternoons, you’re left to conduct any duties to assist your attorney, such as writing reports, conducting interviews, performing administrative duties, researching, and more.
You may often need to rearrange your schedule quickly as different needs for different cases arise throughout the day or to find information for an attorney as new information comes to light.
A day in the life of a paralegal includes three main areas of responsibility: researching, preparing legal documents, and interviewing.
In order to assist an attorney for a trial, hearing, or closing, paralegals conduct research that includes the following:
Verifying the facts of a case, identifying relevant laws, reviewing past judicial decisions, and reading legal articles relevant to the case to take notes on behalf of an attorney.
Gathering and analyzing information to create a summary.
Creating a summary in the form of a written report that the attorney uses to determine how the case should be handled.
Preparing presentations for a client based on research.
Here’s an example of a case briefing that a paralegal might have to prepare for an attorney:
Drafting or preparing legal documents for an attorney to review or for a client to sign is a big part of a paralegal’s day-to-day responsibilities.
Some examples of legal documents you may prepare as a paralegal include:
Legal briefs with various parties
Here’s an example of a subpoena letter a paralegal might have to draft:
Attorneys are almost always present for the initial client interview or debrief at the start of a case. Paralegals are also usually present for that interview and often conduct any following interviews.
Other interviewing duties might include locating and interviewing witnesses and preparing memos summarizing testimonies for the attorney.
Here’s an example of a testimony memorandum that a paralegal might have to prepare:
Paralegal career progression
Paralegals that continue their education throughout their career have the most opportunities for advancement. Those that are trained in the following fields are the most sought after:
With experience, paralegals can progress to become a paralegal manager. This job requires leading a team of paralegals within a firm, training new employees, and representing a law firm to other businesses.
Paralegal managers also often evaluate and streamline processes within a firm or organization.
Many paralegals often continue studies to eventually attend law school and become an attorney. Those who choose to leave law altogether can find jobs as library technicians, legal job recruiters, or post-secondary educators.
Library technicians for law libraries often assist with locating materials, preparing reports, and researching case law. They can work in dedicated law libraries, academic libraries, museums, medical centers, or government agencies.
Legal job recruiters find and secure new legal talent by posting open jobs, reviewing resumes, and conducting interviews.
Post-secondary educators teach in paralegal studies programs and are required to have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Paralegal jobs hiring now
Both paralegals and legal assistants make an average salary of $52,920 a year, or $25.44 per hour. However, this rate changes drastically depending on the type of attorney you’re supporting and your location.
Here’s an example of paralegal job listings in New York:
You can filter listings by distance from the location you’ve searched or experience level. Once you see an interesting listing, click to expand and see more information.
When you find something you like, you can click apply to be taken to the site that is listing the job.
Opportunities for paralegals are growing
Opportunities for paralegals of all types and experience levels are growing around the country, and if you’re looking for a job change, working as a paralegal might be right for you.
Jobcase is more than just a place to find job listings — it’s also a community that helps people find jobs and build their careers.
Check out some of the advice our community is giving on becoming a paralegal.