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Paralegal Studies - Overview


Paralegal programs prepare people to do legal research and give legal support to lawyers. Students learn about courthouse procedures and how to write legal documents. They also learn research and investigating skills.

You look at your watch. It's 4:34 p.m. You've got 26 minutes to file the complaint at the courthouse before it closes. You've been working on the complaint for two weeks - researching, writing, and reviewing. Even after drinking your fourth cup of coffee, you're tired. At the same time, you're excited! You're working on a multimillion dollar lawsuit and you want to help your client win.

And - you're not a lawyer. Nope. You're different, but in many ways just as important. Who are you? You're a paralegal!

Sometimes people hear the word "paralegal" and think "secretary." It's true that paralegals do things like make copies and send faxes. However, the job of a paralegal is more complex.

In a paralegal program you learn how the legal system works and how a trial is run. You learn how to meet with clients and how to interview witnesses. You learn how to research the facts of a case and write summaries about them. You also learn how to prepare important documents, such as wills, contracts, divorce settlements, and affidavits.

You might be thinking, paralegals sound a lot like lawyers. It's true that paralegals do many of the things lawyers do. However, paralegals can't give legal advice . In some states paralegals can't try a case in court or take legal fees. In general, as a paralegal you will assist a lawyer, but won't be 100 percent in charge of your own cases.

The length of paralegal programs varies. There are one- or two-year certificate programs and two-year associate degree programs. A few colleges offer four-year bachelor's degree programs. Programs are offered at several community colleges, at four-year colleges and universities, and at private vocational schools.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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