For better or for worse, we are a litigious society, which means plenty of opportunities for lawyers and the related professionals who work in this area of law, including paralegals.
According to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide, litigation is expected to generate the greatest number of paralegal jobs within the next two years, making this specialization a smart choice for ambitious paralegals. And for countless paralegals, there is simply no other area of law that provides as much excitement and variety as litigation.
The Role of Paralegals in the Litigation Process
Litigation is any type of proceeding initiated by two, opposing parties to enforce or defend a legal right. The parties involved may settle litigation cases out of court, or the case may proceed to the courtroom, where it is heard by a judge or jury.
Litigation is a multi-stage process, and the work of paralegals is valued at every step. Paralegals play an important role in the activities that occur before, during, and after a lawsuit:
Pre-Suit Litigation: During pre-suit litigation, paralegals are instructed by an attorney to complete a variety of activities, including: scheduling client meetings and maintaining communication with clients; composing and sending demand letters; and researching and collecting evidence for pre-suit investigations.
Pre-Suit Negotiation: Pre-suit negotiations are an effort between the parties to avoid a formal lawsuit. During this time, paralegals send and receive correspondence regarding the demand letter; schedule meetings between the parties; and maintain communication with the clients regarding the progress of the negotiations.
Alternative Dispute Resolution: Alternate dispute resolutions are another attempt to avoid a formal lawsuit. During this time, paralegals arrange for parties to meet with an independent attorney or other mediator. They also compose and file documentation, forms, and memos associated with arbitration.
Pre-Suit Preparation: When all other attempts at remediation fail, paralegals help trial attorneys defend the client in a court of law. Paralegals compose and file all necessary paperwork with the courts and serve copies of the paperwork to the other party.
They play an important role in the discovery period, which includes preparing documents and evidence, submitting requests for admission of evidence, and preparing and sending depositions.
Paralegals also engage in motion practice, where they prepare to petition the court, on behalf of the supervising attorney, should a case dispute arise.
Post-Trial Litigation: Litigation often continues long after the trial has ended, usually due to a dispute regarding a monetary award or the decision of the court. Even in cases where both parties accept the court’s decision, there are a number of motions, orders, and hearings that need to take place to close a case. Paralegals ensure all necessary documentation has been completed, signed, and filed with the court.
The Job Duties and Responsibilities of Litigation Paralegals
The general job duties of paralegals in litigation include:
- Preparing, organizing, and filing documents and correspondence
- Conducting research, document searches, and other factual research
- Updating and maintaining internal databases
- Preparing witness and matter materials for case preparation
- Organizing relevant documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Preparing for and attending depositions
- Preparing and organizing exhibits during depositions
- Preparing and filing all court documents
However, depending on the type of case or court proceeding, the job duties of paralegals may differ:
Civil Litigation Paralegals
Paralegals in civil litigation perform duties associated with tort (wrongful act) claims, breach of contract claims, equitable claims (taking or stopping some type of action), and landlord/tenant claims.
- Employment law
- Personal injury
- Health law
- Homeowner liability
- Medical malpractice
- Construction litigation
- Real estate malpractice
Criminal Litigation Paralegals
Paralegals in criminal litigation are involved in cases associated with activities (crimes) that the government prohibits because it threatens and harms public safety. This includes crimes involving:
- Domestic violence
- Assault and battery
- Child abuse
- Illegal drugs
- Computer crime/identity theft
- Attempted murder
Education and Certification Options for Paralegal Jobs in Litigation
Completing a paralegal educational program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) is the first step to becoming a paralegal who specializes in litigation. ABA-approved programs in paralegal studies range from certificate programs to associate degree programs to bachelor degree programs. A few programs also exist at the master’s degree level.
Although no minimum educational standard for paralegals exists, a number of professional paralegal associations, including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), recommend a program of no less than 60 semester credits, which is equal to an associate’s degree program.
Both the AAfPE and NALA also recommend the completion of an internship lasting at least six months. Programs in paralegal studies provide a comprehensive education for paralegals, providing an overview of all areas of practice, while internships allow new graduates to focus on a specific area of law, such as litigation.
Paralegal certification, although a voluntary endeavor, has become commonplace, as it allows paralegals to set themselves apart from their colleagues and demonstrate advanced competency in the profession.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers an advanced specialty certification in Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). To receive this specialty certification, candidates must complete a three-course sequence, with each course lasting 4 weeks:
- Advanced litigation
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Advanced tort law
NALA offers advanced certification courses in:
- Criminal Litigation
- Personal Injury (8 practice course areas)
- Automobile accidents
- Entity medical liability
- Individual medical liability
- Intentional torts
- Premises liability
- Product liability
- Workers’ compensation
- Wrongful death
- Trial practice
Salary Expectations for Litigation Paralegals
NALA conducted a national survey of paralegals in 2014, which revealed salaries by specialty of practice. Those in the following areas of litigation earned more than the national average for paralegals, which was $58,410:
- Multi-State Litigation: $59,426
- Product Liability: $59,248
- Mass Tort Litigation: $58,670