Prelaw and Legal Scholars Program

Paralegal Preparation

The Career of Paralegal

A paralegal (also referred to as a Legal Assistant) is defined by the American Bar Association as "a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."

The paralegal profession is growing at rates higher than most careers. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Employment Projections, the profession is projected to grow by 18% during the years 2010 - 2020.

Paralegals perform many functions under the supervision of attorneys. The National Association of Legal Assistants states some of these duties to include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal assistant, and the legal assistant works under the supervision of the attorney.
  • Locate and interview witnesses.
  • Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research.
  • Conduct legal research.
  • Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
  • Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
  • Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney.
  • Author and sign correspondence provided the legal assistant status is clearly indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice.
  • Professionally, a paralegal's time for substantive legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way as an attorney's time, but at a lower hourly rate.

Paralegal Education

There is no universal requirement to become a paralegal. Thus, practicing paralegals have a variety of educational backgrounds. Some may have only a high school diploma and then receive their paralegal education as on-the-job training while others may have advanced degrees in a field unrelated to law. For example, a person with a PhD in Chemistry may be hired as a paralegal in a large Environmental Law firm. Paralegals may earn a paralegal certificate after receiving a bachelor's degree. Other "certificate" programs do not require a college degree. However, more and more colleges and universities are now offering a degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies. In fact, masters and doctorates are also available in the discipline.

The most common level of paralegal education is the associate's (two year) degree such as that offered at SUU. Courses as part of SUU's program are listed in this website under the heading, Legal Studies Curriculum and Degrees. They are designed to prepare students for this exciting and challenging career. Legal Studies (LEGL) classes are offered online so as to be available to nontraditional students and those living outside the Cedar City area.

Note: some states and professional associations have voluntary certifications that paralegals and paralegal students may seek to achieve. An example is the Certified Paralegal (CP) certification and related examination offered through the National Association of Legal Assistants.

The Director of Legal Studies oversees the university's associate degree program for students seeking to be a paralegal. In addition to a listing of LEGL courses, please refer to this website for the Director's contact information and a listing of activities that may be of interest to the paralegal student.