Paralegals: Learn more about this career path

Articles | Online Master's in Health Law and Policy

 

Legal professional completing paperwork.
Navigating the complexities of law and completing the intricate administrative tasks that are involved requires a skilled team. Paralegals and legal assistants offer support for attorneys in a variety of ways, such as preparing affidavits and other documents, conducting research on legal precedents and organizing exhibits for trials. These professionals play important roles in all areas of legal practices, including health care law.

Hospitals, insurers, medical practices and life sciences businesses are governed by myriad regulations and statutes that continue to evolve and present fresh challenges. A paralegal who possesses a deep understanding of key policies and requirements for compliance may find a rewarding career in the world of health care. Legal professionals can build their expertise in this area and discover new opportunities by earning an online Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy.

What is a paralegal?

The American Bar Association provided an official definition of a paralegal, stating, “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.” As that description suggests, the precise duties of paralegals can vary greatly, but may include helping attorneys by:

  • Performing extensive research into the facts of a case, as well as relevant regulations and publications in legal journals.
  • Arranging evidence for a hearing or trial.
  • Preparing a report with an overview of key points in a case.
  • Writing legal documents, like contracts or official correspondence.
  • Preparing authorization to obtain a client’s medical records in accordance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.
  • Contacting clients, witnesses and other individuals involved in a case.
  • Taking notes and going over trial transcripts.

Depending on the areas of law they work in and the types of organizations that employ them, the daily routines of paralegals can be quite different. Assistants who work in a health care setting may closely examine medical records and review the language in insurance policies. They could check for potential legal issues in a life sciences firm’s marketing claims or create employment contracts for medical staff.

Compliance is a vital area of focus for paralegals, especially when working for an organization involved in health care. Legal assistants who specialize in areas with complex regulations and unique ethical questions are often called upon to research applicable laws, monitor internal processes. Compliance paralegals must report on the results of audits and develop projects to improve an organization’s policies and practices, such as drafting policies to keep all patient interactions in line with HIPAA requirements.

The average paralegal salary is $50,410, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the top 10 percent earn more than $81,180. Opportunities are growing fast, with the BLS projecting 15 percent job growth in the field from 2016 to 2026.

The skills to excel as a legal assistant

The wide range of paralegal job requirements calls for a diverse set of abilities. With the right combination of specialized knowledge, technical competency and soft skills, legal assistants can make the most of their career in this expanding field. Depending on the employer, there are many educational routes that can qualify someone to be a paralegal, but many earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by a certificate in paralegal studies from a program approved by the ABA.

Since research is one of the most important aspects of this occupation, professionals must be adept at tracking down useful information. That might mean digging into legal databases, locating medical records, examining witness statements or looking into malpractice precedents in case law. A successful paralegal is adept at figuring out the best way to obtain facts and has enough background knowledge to understand the context.

The most effective legal assistants are well-versed in how to use technology to complete their assignments. They may rely on database and analytical software to store, manage and examine key pieces of information, especially if they are involved in litigation support or electronic discovery. Legal professionals should also be familiar with common desktop publishing software and maintaining spreadsheets.

Soft skills are essential to fulfilling a paralegal’s responsibilities, which include a great deal of communication and teamwork with other staff members, attorneys, outside experts and vendors. Individuals who thrive in this job are capable of clearly expressing themselves in both speech and writing, routinely drafting briefs, legal documents and correspondence that are concise and strongly worded. They are detail-oriented and highly organized people who can handle multiple projects at once.

Preparing for a career in health care law

If you want to take on a paralegal career at the intersection of health care and policy, you may benefit from a robust background in this specialized area. Anyone working in health care law must regularly face a variety of unique demands and complicated questions. Earning an advanced degree can prepare a legal assistant to excel at a law firm that specializes in cases related to medicine or within an organization that’s involved in health care delivery or products.

Hofstra Law’s online Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy program is designed for professionals who already have an education in the law and are seeking to specialize in a practice related to health care. This path is well-suited to paralegals, offering them a way to earn an advanced degree by taking nine classes over 18 months. By developing their expertise in some of the most pressing issues involving medicine and regulations, legal assistants can prepare themselves to take a leap forward in their careers.

The classes cover topics such as business transactions in health care, exploring how case law, statutes and regulations impact the best practices for an acquisition or merger. In “Representing Health Care Providers,” students learn about the regulatory concerns that attorneys in this area of specialization confront, whether they are retained by a physician, hospital or entire health care system. In a course on compliance, professionals learn how to put their legal knowledge into action by developing internal policies and documentation to govern how an organization operates.

There are rich possibilities for bringing together an array of skills and a broad base of knowledge in working as a paralegal. Health care law is an engaging and challenging area of focus for anyone interested in advancing their career as a legal assistant. To find out more about how an online Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy can help you achieve your goals, visit the program page.

Recommended Readings:
Hofstra Law’s online Master’s in Health Law and Policy programs: What you need to know
Career overview of medical and health services managers

Sources:
Current ABA Definition of Paralegal by ABA
Paralegals and Legal Assistants by BLS
Summary Report for Paralegals and Legal Assistants by O*NET Online
8 Skills You Need to Succeed as a Paralegal by The Balance