If you want to work in the legal system but don't want to be an attorney, you could become a paralegal. A paralegal in the field of litigation is a legal professional who assists lawyers in preparing and conducting legal proceedings.
They perform many of the same duties as lawyers, including interviewing clients and witnesses, investigating cases, and drafting pleadings. However, litigation paralegals typically do not give legal advice or represent clients in court. Let's take a closer look at what it takes to become a litigation paralegal and what duties are expected from people in this profession.
What Is a Litigation Paralegal?
A litigation paralegal is a professional who assists lawyers by performing various legal-related tasks. While a litigation paralegal's responsibilities vary depending on the type of law practiced, they typically include research, document preparation, and case management.
In some cases, litigation paralegals may also be responsible for gathering facts, interviewing witnesses, and assisting with trial preparation. Most states require paralegal certification from an accredited program to work as a litigation paralegal. Furthermore, many employers prefer hiring candidates who have worked in a law firm or a similar legal setting.
Litigation paralegals must have strong research, writing, and analytical skills and prior legal experience. They must also be able to work effectively under pressure and meet deadlines.
Litigation paralegals play a vital role in the legal system, and their expertise is in high demand. A successful career as a litigation paralegal is possible with the right training and experience.
What Is a Litigation?
Litigation is a formal process in which two parties take their disagreement to a court of law. The term can refer to either civil or criminal proceedings, with either individuals or organizations as parties.
In civil litigation cases (such as family law litigations), the parties usually seek monetary restitution from one another, while in criminal litigation, the state seeks to punish an individual for breaking the law.
Typically, the litigation process begins with one party filing a complaint against the other, after which the court rules and schedules a hearing. Both parties will then be allowed to present their case to a judge or jury, who will ultimately decide in favor of one or the other.
While litigation can be complex and time-consuming, it allows both parties to have their day in court and have their case heard by an impartial third party.
What Does a Litigation Paralegal Do?
Paralegals in the field of litigation frequently take on the numerous tasks that arise before, during, and after a trial. They handle important work in areas like investigation, pleadings, discovery, settlements, and appeals.
Pre-claim investigation is typically coordinated by litigation paralegals. The paralegal's duties may include tracking down and interviewing potential witnesses, taking statements from those witnesses, collecting relevant legal documents and evidence, conducting preliminary research, compiling case investigation notebooks, and drafting an event timeline.
On the plaintiff side of the litigation, paralegals may conduct legal research with initial client interviews and case assessments.
When working on a case, litigation paralegals spend most of their time in the discovery process. The role of a paralegal is to assist legal professionals in creating discovery documents such as interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions, and other similar tasks.
When working on the defense team, paralegals may be asked to locate subject matter experts within their client company who can aid in drafting responses to interrogatories.
They also handle other discovery requests, assist with e-discovery, create and maintain discovery indexes, organize case files, set discovery deadlines, review and analyze litigation documentation, summarize depositions, and organize and summarize medical records.
Defense paralegals may work closely with their clients to gather evidence and develop defense strategies. Many litigation paralegal duties require them to draft and file pleadings with the court and maintain indexes of previous filings. Paralegals are also in charge of scheduling court appearances and meeting all applicable filing deadlines.
Paralegals in civil litigation often work with plaintiff attorneys to draft important court documents like the complaint, summons, and supporting affidavits.
Paralegals in the field of litigation are responsible for managing cases that involve a large volume of documents and preparing trial binders. When a case is in the pretrial phase, the litigation paralegal's organization and communication abilities are really put to the test.
Paralegals in litigation often act as intermediaries between the client, the court, and other parties involved in a case. As such, paralegal responsibilities often include arranging travel and lodging for out-of-town trials.
An attorney cannot function without the assistance of a litigation paralegal during the trial phase. Evidence, exhibits, and other documents are all organized by paralegals.
In addition to these duties, trial assistants act as intermediaries between the client, witness, expert, vendor, and trial teams, transport and set up courtroom files and exhibits, prepare and issue subpoenas, aid in witness preparation, conduct legal research on and evaluate potential jurors, and more.
Litigation paralegals can aid attorneys in the courtroom during voir dire and the selection of jurors. They also deal with clients, experts, and courtroom staff, manage exhibits, gather documents, prepare witnesses, observe the jury, take notes on the attorney's behalf, order and review trial transcripts, and more.
In many law firms, a paralegal in litigation helps attorneys reach agreements in client cases. Assistance at settlement conferences, drafting of settlement agreements and releases, and data collection and organization are all possible tasks they may be assigned.
Paralegals specialized in litigation aid attorneys by researching potential appeals, compiling evidence for the appeal/ joint appendix, and indexing cases for use in a table of authorities. They also help compile appellate documents, such as evidence, assist with writing briefs, and submit paperwork to the court as needed during the appeal process.
How to Become a Litigation Paralegal?
There are a few things you need to know if you want to work as a litigation paralegal.
Earning a degree or certificate in paralegal studies is crucial. A bachelor's degree is preferred but not required for a career as a paralegal. Both undergraduate and graduate paralegal education programs are highly regarded.
Many paralegal programs offer coursework in specific areas of litigation, such as civil or criminal law. Alternatively, you could earn a degree in another field and take courses in litigation as part of your studies.
In either case, consider which area of litigation you want to specialize in: do you want to become a criminal litigation paralegal or a civil litigation paralegal? Make sure your coursework reflects the answer to that question.
After completing your education, you will need to pass the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). This exam is administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and is required for certification in many states. To pass the PACE, you will need to demonstrate your knowledge of legal research, writing, and ethics.
You can also pass other important paralegal certifications, such as the Certified Paralegal Exam (CPE) given by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). You will be able to use the credential "Certified Paralegal" or "CP" after passing the CPE. This certification is not required for all positions but can help demonstrate your commitment to your chosen field.
After you've completed your education and certification, you'll need to find litigation paralegal jobs in a law firm or another legal setting that handles litigation. Many paralegals begin their careers as law clerks or legal assistants.
These positions provide valuable foundational experience that will help you advance in your career. When applying for jobs, emphasize your research, writing, and organizational abilities. All of these are necessary skills for successful litigation paralegals.
You can become a skilled litigation paralegal with hard work and dedication. These professionals play an essential role in the legal system, providing valuable assistance to both lawyers and clients. If you are interested in this field, you should begin your education and training as soon as possible.
Litigation Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook
Employment prospects for paralegals are as diverse as those for any other profession, depending on factors like location, level of education, and work history.
If you are located in a major metropolitan area and have several years of direct experience as a litigation paralegal plus a bachelor's degree and a paralegal certificate, your salary will be higher than if you’re working in a smaller town with only an associate degree.
For instance, California has the highest concentration of employed paralegals, and their salary averages $70,290 per year, while Arkansas has the lowest average wage for paralegals, at $41,780 per year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a paralegal in 2021 was $56,230, and employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 12% between 2020 and 2030.
Even as other job markets have shrunk during the recession, the outlook for a litigation paralegal job has remained positive. It is best to inquire with working paralegals in your area to learn the going rate for the position. To meet other professionals in the legal field, consider joining a local paralegal association.
Paralegal Specialist vs. Paralegal
Both roles provide assistance to lawyers and legal teams, but there are some significant differences. A paralegal specialist is a more senior position that frequently necessitates additional education and training. They may also be in charge of supervising other paralegals and advising on more complex legal cases.
On the other hand, a paralegal is typically more concerned with administrative duties such as document organization and research. Both roles, however, necessitate exceptional organizational skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work effectively under pressure.
On a Final Note
The litigation paralegal is a vital member of the legal team, providing essential support throughout the litigation process. They play a critical role in ensuring that all aspects of the case run smoothly, from researching and preparing cases to managing deadlines and communicating with clients, among other paralegal tasks.
A successful paralegal must be well-organized, detail-oriented, and possess excellent communication and legal research skills. With the legal field's ever-changing landscape, the ability to adapt and change is also essential. For those with a desire to help others and a passion for justice, a career as a litigation paralegal will be both challenging and rewarding.