Criminal law paralegals work alongside lawyers to assist in the various tasks commonly handled by law firms. While working as a paralegal takes significantly less preparation than law school, paralegals can do everything a lawyer can do except for give legal advice, present cases in court, set fees and take cases.
Education and Certification
Most paralegals either have an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and a paralegal certificate. While criminal law paralegals are not required to have any type of certification, becoming certified often increases a paralegal’s ability to compete for the most desirable jobs. Certification is available through the following three organizations: the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the American Alliance of Paralegals. Certifications for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree are available through a wide variety of colleges and paralegal schools. In some cases, a paralegal with experience may become certified simply by taking a board-certified test.
Criminal law paralegals differ from typical paralegals in that they work specifically with the details of criminal cases instead of the broader aspects of the law. For a paralegal working in criminal law, these include things like interviewing witnesses, doing research for a case, putting together documents, organizing key evidence for trial and helping a lawyer prepare for a case. According to Legal-criminal-justice-schools.com, they must understand "the basic classification of crimes, as well as the legal procedures surrounding search and seizure, arrest, bail and probation." They also perform secretarial work, including tasks like answering the phone, making phone calls, keeping track of paperwork and entering data into the computer. A new paralegal is often assigned mostly administrative work until he becomes more experienced.
Criminal law paralegals spend most of their time working in the office at a law firm. However, they are sometimes asked to travel or assist a lawyer while in court. They generally work 40 hours a week during office hours, although they may sometimes be asked to work overtime or unusual hours when a court case necessitates it.
In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 28 percent increase in the need for paralegals from 2008 to 2018. This is likely because most law offices are seeking to assign as many tasks as possible to paralegals to avoid hiring more lawyers than necessary. As this shift continues, many offices will seek to replace lawyer positions with more paralegals.
As of May 2008, paralegals in the United States earned an average salary of $46,120, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. However, the highest paid paralegals earned salaries in the range of $73,000. Most paralegal jobs come with a full benefits package.
2016 Salary Information for Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $49,500 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, paralegals and legal assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $38,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $63,640, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 285,600 people were employed in the U.S. as paralegals and legal assistants.