Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, assist attorneys with legal research, document preparation and other assignments delegated to them by their supervising attorneys. Paralegals who are promoted to the senior level generally possess an enhanced level of experience and knowledge. Senior paralegals perform legal assignments with a higher degree of autonomy, and their responsibilities are greater than other legal assistants within the firm.
Senior Paralegal Duties
As a whole, paralegals help attorneys acquire the information needed to prepare for hearings, closings, trials and corporate meetings. They analyze information, perform legal research, investigate facts, draft pleadings and motions, and prepare legal documents and reports. Some paralegals specialize in certain areas of law, such as tax law. Senior paralegals investigate and research complex legal matters. They prepare legal documents that require an advanced legal knowledge of specific subject areas. They interview witnesses and supervise other staff. Also, some senior paralegals are responsible for organizing office procedures relating to other support staff.
Senior Paralegal Skills
Senior paralegals are highly skilled in legal research and writing and preparing legal documents. Also, they are well versed in legal terminology, laws, judicial decisions, court jurisdictions and procedure. Moreover, senior paralegals are organized and have good written and verbal communication skills. Likewise, they typically have outstanding time-management skills.
Advancement to Senior Paralegal
As a whole, paralegals must acquire the appropriate education and training. A paralegal must obtain an associate's or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or acquire on-the-job training. However, to advance to the senior paralegal status, the individual must have a certain amount of work experience as a paralegal. According to The Job Explorer, a senior legal assistant normally holds an associate’s degree, certification and a minimum of six years of legal assistant work experience. Conversely, The Job Explorer states that an individual may advance to this level with a bachelor’s degree and four years of work experience or any other comparable experience. Although paralegal certification is beneficial for a paralegal, the Bureau of Labor Statistics affirms that many employers do not require actual certification. For that reason, a comparable amount of education and experience is satisfactory. Senior paralegals perform their work with minimal supervision, and they typically supervise and delegate work to lower-level paralegals and secretaries.
Paralegals who have advanced to a senior paralegal status perform a variety of independent tasks within a typical workday. They work in offices and law libraries with a conventional work schedule of 40 hours weekly. However, some paralegals who work in law firms work more than 40 hours a week.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that paralegal and legal assistant salaries vary according to experience, size of the firm, education and job location. The agency also says that in 2008, the salary for a full-time paralegal was $46,120 a year.
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.