The American Bar Association’s definition of “paralegal" is generally accepted throughout the legal profession:
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants, terms generally used interchangeably, is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. There are many reasons for this projected growth, many of them based solely on market analysis.
Our citizens have an increasing need for legal services in both traditional legal fields and newer exciting areas such as intellectual property, health care, international law, elder law, and environmental law. As the legal system strives to meet these needs, employers also face the economic realities of the need to reduce costs increase the availability and efficiency of legal services. Since the 1960 when the American Bar Association first recognized legal assistants as a separate career path, paralegals have been at the forefront of meeting these needs. While paralegals work under the supervision of attorneys, they have increasingly taken on substantive legal tasks formerly performed only by attorneys.
The growth of employment of paralegals both arising from and lends support to the growth of recognition of and respect for paralegals as professionals with a separate identity with their own role in the legal system, their own professional associations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and their own professional certifications. Paralegal students have their own Honor Society, LEX, with a chapter on the University of Mississippi campus.
Paralegal duties and compensation varies depending factors such as the area of law, size of their employer, location of employment, and whether they work for a law firm, a corporation, or in the public sector, but in all circumstances, while lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, paralegals continue to assume a growing range of tasks. Paralegals working in a law firm may is help lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. At the University of Mississippi paralegals are trained to investigate the facts of cases and ensure that all relevant information is considered, identify, analyze and organize all relevant information including appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned matters including civil litigation, contracts, torts, domestic law, business organizations, will and estate administration, and criminal law.
According to the National Association of Legal Assistants the average salary for paralegals responding their 2008 compensation survey 2008 was $51,000 including salary and bonuses. Actual compensation depends on factors such as experience, education, the type of employer, the type of law, size of firm and the geographical location.