There are more than 250,000 paralegals in US, and they are employed in all types of organizations. The majority (almost 75%, as shown in the graph below) are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and government offices. A paralegal can work in many different areas of the law in these organizations, including litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. Paralegals employed by corporations and government usually work a standard 40-hour week. Although most paralegals work year round, some are temporarily employed during busy times of the year and then released. More paralegals are employed in metropolitan areas than in rural areas.
As the law becomes more complex, paralegals become more specialized. Within specialties, functions are often broken down further. For example, paralegals working in large law firms specializing in labor law may concentrate exclusively on a sub-section such as employee benefits. In small and medium-size law firms, paralegal duties are usually more general matching the more general nature of the typical small and medium size firm’s practice. In any size law firm, paralegals often work very long hours due to strict deadlines.
A paralegal’s typical job tasks differ widely according to the type of organization they are employed by. 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.
The duties of paralegals working in the public sector 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 help the poor, the aged, and others who are in need of legal assistance. They file forms, conduct research, prepare documents, and, when specifically authorized by law, may represent clients at administrative hearings.
Paralegals handle many routine assignments, particularly when they are inexperienced. As they gain experience, paralegals usually assume more varied tasks with additional responsibility.
Paralegals perform most of their work in offices and law libraries working in a quiet and professional environment much like that of a public library. Occasionally, they travel to investigate facts of a case, interview witnesses, photograph locations which are crimes scenes or the subjects of civil litigation, gather general research information, or assist an attorney taking depositions.