Legal researchers help attorneys prepare for trial by verifying the facts associated with a case. They research laws and previous cases that might influence how a lawyer formulates his argument for the courtroom. Also called paralegals or legal assistants, they earned a median annual salary of $46,990 as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau expects demand for these professionals to grow 17 percent between 2012 and 2022.
Education and Experience
Legal researchers typically need a college degree. Many universities offer associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies. Some firms hire candidates with bachelor’s degrees in other fields and provide on-the-job training in paralegal duties such as legal research. Though not required, paralegals can earn certification, something the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes can boost employment prospects. The Bureau also notes that many firms prefer candidates with at least one year of legal or office experience.
Legal researchers work both for law firms and for organizations outside the legal field. This includes federal agencies such as the CIA and FBI, as well as multi-lawyer firms and private attorneys’ offices. Starting off with small, private attorneys is sometimes the easiest way to break into the profession, allowing you to gain enough experience to advance to more high-profile positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that an increasing number of corporations are employing legal assistants and paralegals instead of hiring outside attorneys.
A legal researcher’s tasks may vary, depending on the type of law and specifics of the case. For example, she might study the laws specific to the jurisdiction in which the case will be tried to ensure that the attorney follows local laws. She might also study statutes, which includes the Constitution and laws passed by legislatures. In addition, she might examine previous court cases and judicial opinions. Rulings from past trials can establish legal precedents that an attorney can use to support his case or help him develop a strategy.
Legal researchers must know how and where to find authoritative and relevant legal information. They also need the tenacity and commitment necessary to conduct thorough, intensive research that covers every aspect of the case and goes beyond basic information. Strong computer skills are also necessary, as legal researchers sometimes use what’s called electronic discovery. This includes searching email, web sites, databases and documents stored electronically, such as on a computer.