Everything you need to know about a paralegal career

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It takes a skilled team of professionals to navigate the complexities of the law and complete the associated administrative tasks. Paralegals and legal assistants provide support for attorneys in a variety of ways and prove invaluable in all areas of legal practice. Criminal law paralegals, bankruptcy paralegals and other specialized versions of this profession each have their own duties and areas of focus, and that includes individuals who focus their experience on health care law.

 

Hospitals, health insurers, nonprofit organizations, medical practices and life sciences businesses must comply with myriad regulations and statutes that are constantly evolving, presenting organization leaders and legal teams with emerging challenges. A paralegal who understands key policies and compliance requirements may find a rewarding career providing legal services in the world of health care. Legal professionals can build their expertise in this area, supplement their work experience and discover new opportunities by earning an online Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy or Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy.

 

Lady Justice statue with a paralegal completing paperwork in the background

The main duties in a paralegal career

Paralegals and legal assistants have a variety of responsibilities they must complete before, during and after cases. Some of the major tasks you can expect to complete on a regular basis include:

  • Preparing affidavits, contracts and other legal documents
  • Conducting research on legal precedents
  • Gathering the facts of a case
  • Organizing exhibits
  • Summarizing reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Taking notes and going over trial transcripts
  • Calling clients, witnesses and lawyers to schedule depositions and meetings
  • Filing briefs and appeals with the court

Although lawyers are a driving force in the courtroom, paralegals serve as the backbone, providing constant support and professional assistance throughout the legal process. Lawyers and legal partners alike will note that they could not complete a fraction of the work they do without the help of legal assistants, legal secretaries and paralegals.

 

While many paralegals may not have to put in the same number of hours as lawyers and attorneys at the same agencies, it is relatively common for these professionals to work more than 40 hours a week. They usually have to work longer hours when meeting deadlines or trying to gather time-sensitive information before a case.

 

Depending on the type of law they work in and the corporations or other organizations they support, paralegals’ daily routines vary. For instance, paralegals and legal assistants who work in a health care setting may examine medical records and review the language in health insurance policies. They might check for potential legal issues in a life sciences firm’s marketing claims or create employment contracts for medical staff.

 

Compliance is one of the major focus areas within paralegal services, especially when professionals work for an organization involved in health care. Legal assistants who specialize in an area of law with complex regulations and unique ethical questions often research applicable statutes and monitor internal processes. Compliance paralegals must report on the results of audits and develop projects to improve an organization’s policies and practices. One such example of a health care paralegal’s attention to compliance is the drafting of policies to keep all of a corporation’s patient interactions in line with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements.

 

Deciding if this career path is right for you

Although the role of a paralegal can lead to a satisfying career, it isn’t the right job for every professional. If you aren’t positive if this is the best choice for your personality traits and goals, you should take all factors into consideration before leaping into this profession. Here are some typical paralegal characteristics:

 

Detail-oriented

Because paralegals spend so much time combing through different compliance practices and laws, they should have strong attention to detail. Overlooking one small condition can undermine a legal team or dismantle an agency’s case.

Organized

These legal professionals keep track of different court documents, such as affidavits, contracts and other important paperwork. For that reason, they should be organized, ensuring everything is in its proper place at all times; this includes agencies’ physical files and digital documents.

Adaptable

In a court of law, things can change in a matter of moments. While working on litigation, paralegals may research a topic that later proves useless, or a lawyer may change direction with a case. Paralegals should be extremely flexible, able to respond to any necessary changes an attorney makes. In addition, they should feel comfortable multitasking while meeting deadlines.

Communicative

Whether they communicate with their own legal team of attorneys or external professionals, paralegals should be dignified and articulate when communicating with others. They oftentimes need to write different reports and information on their research findings. This means they should not only be effective verbal communicators but also skilled writers.

Analytical

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

Tech-savvy

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

 

Paralegal salary and job outlooks

Careers in law are known for being lucrative and high in demand. In May 2018, the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was $50,940, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those who spend time progressing their experience beyond entry-level positions, the highest 10% of workers in this profession earned salaries of over $82,050. Several factors contribute to paralegals’ pay scale, including years employed, geographical location and industry. According to the BLS, paralegals working in federal government agencies typically earned the highest salaries, with local and state government following closely behind.

 

The BLS also reported a significant growth outlook of the number of paralegals and legal assistants from 2016 to 2026. During this time, employment of professionals in these careers is projected to increase 15%, much faster than the average statistic for all occupations. The growth of demand for paralegals is likely the result of law firms’ and other organizations’ need to meet rising compliance measures and ensure efficiency and accuracy in legal advice. Another reason this profession has risen and will continue to increase is firms’ abilities to lower billing costs for clients when they employ more paralegals than attorneys. For that reason, modern paralegals perform more duties within organizations and hold more responsibilities than ever before.

 

Another major reason these professionals are expected to grow in all industries, particularly in the health care field, is due to the decreased costs associated with corporations bringing on in-house legal teams rather than outsourcing for these lawyers and paralegals. In addition to economic results associated with hiring a larger in-house team, doing so can even lead to an increase in efficiency and accuracy, as internal legal teams have more familiarity with the specific business than attorneys at outsourced private law firms.

 

How to become a paralegal

If professionals want to take on a paralegal career at the intersection of health care and policy, they can benefit from specializing their legal services knowledge for this area. They must be equipped to 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 is involved in health care products or delivery.

 

They can consider several paths once they decide to pursue a career as a paralegal. Although you can get a job as a paralegal with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, most employers prefer hiring paralegals who have at least a bachelor’s degree. Prospective paralegals can then earn certification in paralegal studies from a program that is accredited by the American Bar Association and potentially join a paralegal association. Professionals who are currently working as paralegals may also be interested in pursuing a specific area of law. In this instance, they may consider going back to school.

 

Although you may not need a master’s degree in paralegal studies or law to begin or grow in your career in the paralegal profession, doing so at some point can produce excellent results. For instance, having a master’s degree can increase your pay potential, as your employer will see you as a greater asset to the organization. In addition, a master’s can improve the quality of the work you put forth in the practice of law. Finally, an advanced degree can help increase your career mobility, so you have a greater chance of moving up in the company. You might decide to become a paralegal manager or supervisor to run an internship program, lead other paralegals or even oversee a lawyer. The right education can lead you in the right direction, making you an expert in your desired field of law, preparing you to seek certification and making you an asset to employers.

 

Gain expertise in health and law with Hofstra Law

Hofstra Law’s online Master of Laws or Arts in Health Law and Policy programs can appeal to professionals who already have some formal education in the law as well as professional experience and are seeking to specialize in a practice area 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 progress in their careers.

 

The classes cover topics such as business transactions in health care, including the exploration of best practices for an acquisition or merger. In Representing Health Care Providers, students can learn about the regulatory concerns that attorneys in this specialty confront, whether they are retained by a physician, hospital or 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.

 

You can find plenty of rich possibilities for bringing together an array of skills and a broad base of legal services knowledge in a career as a paralegal. Health care law is one of the most engaging and challenging areas of law for those interested in advancing their career as a legal assistant. To find out more about how an online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy or a Master of Laws in Health Law and Policy can help you achieve your goals, contact an enrollment advisor.

 

 

RECOMMENDED READINGS:

How a health law and policy program can prepare you to advocate for patients

What you need to know about Medicare and Medicaid

SOURCES:

American Bar Association – Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Paralegals and Legal Assistants