Litigation specialists assist attorneys during the litigation process. The U.S. Department of Labor refers to these workers as paralegals or legal assistants. They coordinate legal documents--such as pre-claim investigations, pleadings, interrogatories, and depositions--lawyers may require for closings, hearings, trials and corporate meetings. Although litigation specialists perform many of the same tasks as attorneys, they can only perform this work under the supervision of an attorney.
Nature of Work
Litigation specialists work in tandem with litigation attorneys and participate during all phases of the litigation process, from the commencement of proceedings to the discovery period, through trial, post-trial, settlement and appeals. They maintain meticulously organized, chronologically indexed files, conduct document searches and research to support a case, prepare testimony materials and attend depositions. Litigation specialists work closely with attorneys to file court documents and organize briefs, exhibits and appendices. They produce litigation support documents, order transcripts from reporting services and complete documentation requests from outside counsel and other stakeholders.
Skills for Job Success
Meticulous work habits, the ability to organize and keep track of vast amounts of information, and a keen eye for detail are a litigation specialist’s greatest skills. In addition, they should demonstrate the ability to conduct legal research using computerized information retrieval and analysis systems. Effective litigation specialists maintain a working knowledge of the rules of civil procedure, judicial council forms and related procedures for filing. They are also good communicators, well-versed in interview and investigation techniques and possess the ability to write about legal matters in a clear and concise way.
Preparing for Paralegal Careers
There are several ways to penetrate the legal industry and find litigation specialist jobs. Many legal assistants have an associate degree and gain the required job skills through a community college paralegal program. Other paralegals, mainly individuals who already have a college degree in another subject area, complete coursework and training in paralegal studies to qualify them for careers in the field. Other individuals complete a bachelor's or master's degrees program in paralegal studies and look for jobs right out of college. Because the educational requirements vary by employer, college graduates with no legal experience, experienced legal secretaries, and applicants with specialized knowledge in a technical field that is useful to law firms, are all qualified for paralegal and legal assistant jobs.
Although many employers do not require professional certification as a prerequisite for employment, voluntarily earning certification from a professional paralegal organization may be an advantage in the labor market. The requirements for certification vary by organization but generally involve passing an exam or meeting certain professional criteria, such as work experience and education.
The employment prospects for paralegal and legal assistant jobs, including litigation specialists, is promising. A wide range of factors, such as industry trends to reduce costs, the hiring of paralegals to perform tasks typically handled by attorneys, and increased demand for legal services contribute to job growth. Occupational employment statistics published by the U.S. Department of Labor forecast paralegal and legal assistant jobs to grow by 28 percent through the year 2018, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations nationwide. Experienced, formally trained paralegals will enjoy the best job prospects.
Salary estimates reported in the 2009 edition of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook indicates paralegals in the United States bring in annual salaries ranging from $29,800 to $75,700. The annual median income is $50,080 for all paralegal and legal assistant jobs in the United States, as of May 2009. Litigation specialists employed by management corporations or a federal executive branch of the U.S. government have the highest earnings potential, with annual mean wages of $58,340 and $62,570 respectively, as of May 2009. The District of Columbia is the top-paying state for the occupation; workers in the nation’s capital average annual salaries higher than the national average--$64,760 as of May 2009.
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.