CAREER GUIDE FOR PARALEGALS AND LEGAL ASSISTANTS

SOC Code: 23-2011

 

Pay Band: 4    (Salary Structure)

Standard Occupational Description: Paralegals and legal assistants assist lawyers by researching legal precedent, investigating facts, or preparing legal documents. They conduct research to support a legal proceeding, to formulate a defense, or to initiate legal action. The terms paralegal and legal assistant may be used interchangeably.

Paralegal and legal assistant positions in the Commonwealth are assigned to the following Roles in the Career Group: Hearing and Legal Services

 

Hearing and Legal Services Officer I

           

While Paralegals and Legal Assistants within the Commonwealth are all located within the Hearing and Legal Services Career Group, individuals may want to pursue career advancement, more technical, or managerial opportunities within the Commonwealth depending upon individual training, education, knowledge, skills, abilities, and interests.   

 

Other Career Group(s) that may be of interest are:

 

Administrative and Office Support

Policy Analysis and Planning

Land Acquisition and Property Management

Audit and Management Services

General Administration

 

SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, ABILITIES AND TASKS

(Technical and Functional Expertise)

 

Skills

Note: The technical and functional skills listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Paralegals and Legal Assistants commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the skills listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

 

Skills

 

1.      Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.

2.      Managing one's own time and the time of others.

3.      Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

4.      Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.

5.      Talking to others to convey information effectively.

6.      Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

7.      Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.

8.      Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

9.      Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

10.  Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.

 

Knowledge

Note: The technical and functional knowledge statements listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Paralegals and Legal Assistants commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the knowledge listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

 

The Knowledge of:

 

1.      Structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

2.      Laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.

3.      Administrative and clerical procedures and systems such as word processing, managing files and records, stenography and transcription, designing forms, and other office procedures and terminology.

4.      Circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

5.      Principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.

6.      Business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.

 

Abilities

Note: The technical and functional abilities listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Paralegals and Legal Assistants commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the abilities listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

 

The Ability to:

 

1.      Read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.

2.      Listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

3.      Communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.

4.      Combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).

5.      See details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).

6.      Communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.

7.      Apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.

8.      Speak clearly so others can understand you.

9.      Identify and understand the speech of another person.

10.  Generate or use different sets of rules for combining or grouping things in different ways.

 

 

Tasks

Note:  The following is a list of sample tasks typically performed by Paralegals and Legal Assistants.  Employees in this occupation will not necessarily perform all of the tasks listed. 

 

1.      Prepare legal documents, including briefs, pleadings, appeals, wills, contracts, and real estate closing statements.

2.      Prepare affidavits or other documents, maintain document file, and file pleadings with court clerk.

3.      Gather and analyze research data, such as statutes, decisions, and legal articles, codes, and documents.

4.      Investigate facts and law of cases to determine causes of action and to prepare cases.

5.      Call upon witnesses to testify at hearing.

6.      Direct and coordinate law office activity, including delivery of subpoenas.

7.      Arbitrate disputes between parties and assist in real estate closing process.

8.      Keep and monitor legal volumes to ensure that law library is up-to-date.

9.      Appraise and inventory real and personal property for estate planning.

 

INTERESTED?

 

Like people, occupations have traits or characteristics.  These characteristics give important clues about the nature of the work and work environment, and give you an opportunity to match your own personal interests to a specific occupation.  When you choose a job in an occupation that matches your own interests you have taken an important step in planning a successful and rewarding career.

 

The Legal Assistant occupation has Enterprising, Conventional and Social characteristics as described below:

 

Enterprising — Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Conventional — Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.

Social — Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.

 

LICENSURE, REGISTRATION, OR CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

 

Generally licensure and certification are not required for paralegal and legal assistant positions in state government.

 

Although most employers do not require certification, earning a voluntary certificate from a professional society may offer advantages in the labor market and for career enhancement. The National Association of Legal Assistants, for example, has established standards for certification requiring various combinations of education and experience.

 

Those who pass this examination may use the designation Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). In addition, the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, administered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, offers professional recognition to paralegals with a bachelor's degree and at least 2 years of experience. Those who pass this examination may use the designation Registered Paralegal (RP).

 

For information on the Certified Legal Assistant exam, schools that offer training programs in a specific State, and standards and guidelines for paralegals, contact: National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc: http://www.nala.org

 

Information on the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam can be obtained from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations: http://www.paralegals.org

 

EDUCATIONAL, TRAINING, AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES 

 

The Department of Labor provides the following information:

 

While lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often delegate many of their tasks to paralegals. In fact, paralegals—also called legal assistants—continue to assume a

growing range of tasks in the Nation's legal offices and perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Nevertheless, they are still explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties which are considered to be the practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court.

 

Paralegals 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 that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled. Should attorneys decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments, draft pleadings and motions to be filed 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.

 

There are several ways to become a paralegal. The most common is through a community college paralegal program that leads to an associate's degree. The other common method of entry, mainly for those who have a college degree, is through a certification program that leads to a certification in paralegal studies. A small number of schools also offer bachelor's and master's degrees in paralegal studies. Some employers train paralegals on the job, hiring college graduates with no legal experience or promoting experienced legal secretaries. Other entrants have experience in a technical field that is useful to law firms, such as a background in tax preparation for tax and estate practice, criminal justice, or nursing or health administration for personal injury practice.

 

Paralegal programs include 2-year associate's degree programs, 4-year bachelor's degree programs, and certificate programs that can take only a few months to complete. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for individuals who already hold college degrees, while associate's and bachelor's degree programs usually combine paralegal training with courses in other academic subjects.

 

General information on a career as a paralegal can be obtained from:

Standing Committee on Legal Assistants, American Bar Association: http://www.abanet.org

 

The State Council of Higher Education lists many Virginia educational institutions having a paralegal program. The State Council of Higher Education's web site is http://www.schev.edu/Students/FindaProgram.asp?from=k12.

 

In Virginia, the Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria offers a Paralegal Certificate program. For more information visit http://www.nv.cc.va.us/alexandria/community/paralegal.htm. 

 

The Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge also offers a Paralegal Certificate program. For more information visit http://www.nv.cc.va.us/woodbridge/continuing/cert/paralegal.htm. 

 

For more information on the academic and career development educational courses available at Virginia Community Colleges, visit the Virginia Community College System website at http://www.so.cc.va.us.

 

There are multiple private centers that offer paralegal and legal assistant training. Be sure to thoroughly check the credentials of any private center before enrolling. The following associations maintain lists of schools and tips on what to consider in selecting the right place for you:

American Association for Paralegal Education http://www.aafpe.org

National Association of Legal Assistants http://www.nala.org/

 

There is one recognized apprenticeable specialty associated with this occupation:
Paralegal

 

In Virginia, the Apprenticeship Division of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) administers apprenticeship programs. Detailed information on Apprenticeship programs is available on the DOLI web site at http://www.doli.Virginia.gov/

 

For general information about apprenticeships, training, and partnerships with business, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services (OATELS) website.

 

 

COMMONWEALTH COMPETENCIES

 

Competencies are a set of identified behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that directly and positively impact the success of employees and the organization. Competencies can be observed and measured.  When consistently demonstrated, competencies make employees particularly effective in their work.  Competencies help lay out a road map to career success.  You can use the Commonwealth Competencies to help improve your individual performance by adopting behaviors that make high performing employees successful in their jobs. In this way, you can use the Commonwealth Competencies for your further professional development.

 

The Commonwealth Competencies are:

 

1.      Technical and Functional Expertise

2.      Understanding the Business     

3.      Achieving Results

4.      Serving the Customer

5.      Teamwork

6.      Interpersonal and Communication Skills

7.      Leadership and Personal Effectiveness

 

The above competencies may be applied to employees throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.  They can be rank-ordered by agencies and hiring managers to represent the needs of a specific job.  The rank ordering will change depending upon the occupation, an organization's priorities, the actual job requirements, and the supervisor's preferences. 

 

Career success is both about what you do (applying your technical knowledge, skills, and ability) and how you do it (the consistent behaviors you demonstrate and choose to use) while interacting and communicating with others.  Hopefully, by studying the Commonwealth competencies, identifying your developmental opportunities, and working to refine your own competence, you can take charge of your career!

 

For additional information about the Commonwealth Competencies go to: http://jobs.virginia.gov/cd_main.html. For the competencies, we first list the competencies and then define each.  Finally, we list competency indicators; to describe what successful performance looks like. 

 

COMMONWEALTH CAREER PATH

 

Career opportunities in the Commonwealth are not limited to moving “up” to the next highest role and pay band, changing positions, or to becoming a supervisor.  That's because most roles describe a broad group of occupationally related positions that perform a range of work that requires increased knowledge and skills.  For that reason, Commonwealth roles describe the career paths within the same or higher-level role for the same or different Career Group.  The broad salary range and the Commonwealth's pay practices provide flexibility in recognizing career development and advancement. (Salary Structure)

 

For example: Legal Assistant

 

PAY BAND

PRACTITIONER ROLES

 

Pay

Band

Role

4

Hearing and Legal Services Officer I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Career Path

 

Hearing and Legal Services Officer I

The Hearing & Legal Services Officer I role provides career track for legal assistants responsible for reviewing and analyzing investigative reports, preparing legal documents, and presenting cases before a presiding officer or board.

 

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT: 

 

O*NET  - Occupational Information Network

http://online.onetcenter.org/

 

Virginia Employment Commission – information on job openings.

http://www.alex.vec.state.va.us/

 

Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook – information on the career field of paralegal and legal assistant

http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm,

 

Career One Stop  - nationwide career resource and job search website.

http://www.careeronestop.org/

 

Virginia Career Resource Network 

http://www.vacrn.net/ (Type “paralegal” in “text search” then press search, then press “paralegal”.)

 

Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia

http://www.ccps.virginia.edu/career_prospects/briefs/P-S/Paralegals.html

 

American Bar Association

 http://www.abanet.org

 

National Association of Legal Assistants

 http://www.nala.org