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Popular Practice Areas for Paralegals

November 21, 2008

Even in the face of our struggling economy, the paralegal field remains a thriving and popular industry, attracting a large number of aspiring legal assistants. With nearly 1,000 paralegal schools across the country and an abundance of job opportunities available at law firms and corporations, a career as a legal assistant can be a rewarding and profitable one.

Like lawyers, paralegals can select a specific practice area in which to seek employment. Different specialties can require varying skill sets and disciplines. On any given day, a legal assistant in the personal injury area will most likely perform different tasks than one who works for a divorce lawyer, although there will always be certain common threads among the various practice areas.

Although there are some general practice firms that cater to a wide range of clients, most attorneys choose a specific area of law. When they're in the market to hire a paralegal, they usually prefer one whose education and experience matches their own. Once you've decided that the paralegal industry is for you, it's wise to consider choosing a specialty.

 

Below are some of the most popular practice areas selected by paralegals

Litigation

The most widely chosen specialty for paralegals, litigation involves the argument and settlement of lawsuits, both in and out of the courtroom. All accredited paralegal schools will offer courses on litigation procedures. As a litigation paralegal, you'll likely assist with both civil cases, such as contract violations and property law, and criminal cases, including drunk driving or assault.

Common tasks include:

  • researching legal precedents
  • preparing briefs and pleadings
  • keeping the attorney apprised of upcoming trial dates and deadlines
  • conducting interviews with witnesse
  • assisting with the appeals process
  • and assisting the lawyer during court appearances.

Estate Planning & Probate

This area of law involves the distribution of property and other assets after someone dies. Each state has a default probate process that determines how assets are dispensed in the absence of a will. As a probate paralegal, you'll assist primarily with drafting documents to establish guardianships and conservatorships, which arrange for the custody of dependents who cannot care for themselves.

Other common tasks include:

  • interviewing clients
  • preparing wills and trusts
  • assisting with tax preparation
  • verifying and managing assets
  • and following up on the dispersion of funds.

Corporate Law

The management and administration of business-related functions, such as forming a new business, merging two or more businesses, or managing public stocks, falls under the corporate law umbrella. Intellectual property, which regulates the formation of patents, copyrights, and trademarks, is also included in this practice area. If you possess a solid foundation of business knowledge, corporate law may be the specialty for you. As a paralegal in this area, you'll draft a wide array of corporate documents, research existing patents and trademarks, review and verify business transactions, assist with financial reports, and review stock options and shareholder agreements, among other tasks.

Employment Law

As an employment law paralegal, you'll specialize in all communications and contracts between employers and their employees. You'll need to have an in-depth knowledge of the human resources field, including current laws surrounding hiring and firing, unemployment compensation, discriminatory behavior, and worker's compensation. A sub-specialty of employment law is labor law, which governs the formation and activities of labor unions.

Common tasks of an employment paralegal include:

  • preparing employee handbooks and policy documents
  • drafting pleadings and affidavits
  • investigating claims of employer discrimination
  • researching and applying legislation like the Family & Medical Leave Act
  • and helping attorneys prepare for trial cases.

Real Estate Paralegal

Anytime a property is bought, sold, financed, or leased, it becomes subject to the regulations of real estate law. As a real estate paralegal, you may assist with the purchase and sale of private or business property. Your primary duties will include preparing such real estate documents as deeds, mortgages, titles, and leases, as well as managing escrow accounts, preparing paperwork for real estate closings, obtaining building permits, and researching regulations for land use and zoning.

Government Paralegal

Almost all government agencies require the services of a paralegal to research legal precedents, assist with investigations, and perform fact-checking. A government paralegal may obtain a position with a local, state, or federal bureau. Examples of government agencies are the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Supreme Court.

Tax Paralegal

Taxes are a government-mandated obligation that impacts all individuals, small businesses, and large corporations. There are various types of tax law in which a paralegal might choose to specialize, including estate tax, property tax, and federal income tax.

Immigration Paralegal

The movement of people into the United States from other countries requires specific government-issued documentation. As a legal assistant for an immigration attorney, you'll assist with securing permanent and temporary visas, enforcing violations of immigration law, and preparing paperwork for obtaining naturalization and citizenship.

Bankruptcy & Debt Paralegal

When a debtor cannot fulfill their financial obligations, a bankruptcy lawyer and paralegal assist with negotiating settlements with creditors, preparing bankruptcy paperwork, and researching the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You may choose to specialize in business or consumer bankruptcy.

Family Law Paralegal

This area of law involves the creation and dissolution of family relationships as mandated by state governments. As a paralegal for a family law practice, you'll assist with paperwork, hearings, and trial cases related to divorce, child support, domestic violence, adoptions, prenuptial agreements, and more.

Accident & Injury Paralegal

Personal injury attorneys represent clients who have experienced physical injury, financial strain, or emotional duress. There are many different sub-specialties within the personal injury field, including car accidents, wrongful death, and product liability.

No matter what specialty area you choose, a position in the paralegal field requires a strong work ethic, adherence to strict confidentiality agreements, flexibility in working hours, and a high level of professionalism.

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