Where are paralegals needed? Pretty much everywhere! Because the law affects every aspect of our lives, there are jobs out there for individuals with paralegal skills in most areas of government, business and nonprofit organizations. Below are a few specialties to consider while planning your paralegal education and career.
Corporations across the country are seeking paralegals with a wide variety of skills to meet their individual needs. For example, a software company may seek a corporate paralegal to manage new subsidiary setup processes, a position that would require due diligence, knowledge of closing mechanics and post-closing integration. This job would involve collaborating with the company’s tax, finance, facilities and HR departments in addition to working with outside counsel. An individual in this position would support sales, licensing and marketing by drafting and negotiating legal agreements under the direction of an attorney. This paralegal would support merger and acquisition transactions, and other aspects of transactions in relation to corporate development.
Positions such as this require excellent interpersonal skills since these paralegals work with personnel from their own companies and from merging companies. Corporate paralegals need to know the laws and regulations that apply to incorporation, boards of directors, contracts, product licensing, taxes and human resources. In positions such as this, paralegals often work with companies from other states and even other countries as companies are merged or interests are divested.
Corporate paralegals may deal with incorporation from its very earliest planning stages, beginning with checking the availability of the corporate name and a reserve name. They may draft articles of incorporation, bylaws, organizational minutes and stock certificates for initial subscribers. They may also handle basic preparation of a minute book, a corporate seal, stock ledger and stock certificates, along with preparing and filing appropriate documents with the Secretary of State, the department of corporation, the IRS and state tax entities.
After incorporation, corporate paralegals deal with drafting resolutions and waivers, draft amendment or restatement of articles, articles of merger and dissolution of corporations. They are involved with drafting buy-sell agreements, employment agreements, promissory notes, leases and other documents pertaining to corporate business that may be unique to the type of industry in which the corporation is involved.
All of this requires an excellent knowledge of federal, state and county forms for corporations and partnerships, in addition to filing procedures. Corporate paralegals also need a working knowledge of the stock options, deferred compensation, incentive compensation plans, profit sharing, pension plans and insurance programs that can be part of employment and partnership packages. In addition, they should have an understanding of the state’s corporations code.
While being a corporate paralegal is demanding, it also offers a variety of challenges that can be more rewarding than working in a law firm where just one type of law is practiced and there is more of a daily routine. In addition, the opportunities for promotion are often greater. A corporate paralegal who shows personal, organizational, technical and leadership skills may advance to positions within the company that wouldn’t be available in a law office.
Real Estate and Title Insurance Paralegals
Title companies and real estate firms often have their own in-house legal departments and paralegals are essential parts of these teams. These paralegals need to know about the various aspects and stages of real estate transactions in both residential and commercial real estate. They often draft original sales contracts, prepare files for closings and do lien searches, order and review appraisal reports and environmental surveys, prepare title insurance policies, review title commitments and clear title exceptions. They also deal with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and non-RESPA settlement statements, preparation of sellers’ documentation, loan documentation and preparation of closing binders.
The importance of due diligence in these duties, whether in a small residential sale or a multi-million dollar real estate venture, cannot be understated. One missed cloud on a title, an error in the loan documents or an environmental study that wasn’t completed, reviewed for problems and filed properly can have devastating personal and financial consequences for those involved.
Paralegals at real estate and title insurance companies need to be familiar with state and federal regulations such as RESPA, which was established by the U.S. government’s department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to protect consumers from real estate and loan fraud. It specifically addresses loan settlements and the proper disclosures that need to be in evidence in the closing binders.
Helping put together real estate transactions may seem routine, but the various kinds of deals that are put together are as different as the buyers and sellers. Assembling the pieces of a successful transaction in a timely manner takes specialized knowledge, attention to detail and good people skills for those times when a buyer or seller is stressed.
Public Defender Paralegals
Individuals interested in criminal law and protecting the rights of the accused may find satisfaction in working in the offices of state public defenders. Public defender paralegals need a working knowledge of procedural law in the criminal system, penal codes, legal research and forms.
In helping public defenders put together their cases, these paralegals complete forms and prepare legal correspondence, legal pleadings, summonses, pre-trial agreements, motions and responses. They may aid in putting together evidence charts, maintaining case files and arranging the proper documents, including ensuring that subpoenas get to witnesses.
These paralegals need to be able to communicate effectively with lawyers, judges, clerks, investigators, clients, law enforcement and forensic experts. It is a dynamic area of the law in which a paralegal can build a career.
Paralegals Within NGOs
The variety and challenge for paralegals working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is endless. By their very nature, NGOs are oriented to specific missions and goals. A skilled paralegal who has an area of special interest is bound to find a like-minded organization. For example, the Red Cross helps people with health issues and in times of disaster, and Save the Children helps children around the world through shelter, food, immunizations and other needed assistance. There are also environmental and educational NGOs.
Community-based NGOs may be focused on helping the poor or assisting immigrants. Organizations such as these often have minimal staff, a single paid attorney and/or volunteer attorneys and paralegals who help people with their legal issues. A small community NGO may set up a family legal clinic to help families with financial challenges in navigating routine legal issues that seem insurmountable to them. Paralegals can help these people with filing legal papers related to issues such as child custody, divorce and visas.
Paralegals working for these organizations need to know how government regulations affect the work that the NGO is doing. They need to be familiar with laws that can be used to further the cause, so that the right actions can be filed properly. Their work could involve pleading for a temporary injunction to prevent the building of a damn that may irreparably damage a canyon environment and endangered species, or fighting an injunction that blocks the re-naturalization of a damned waterway that currently keeps salmon from returning to spawn. These are high-stakes, high-profile cases.
One case that recently made the headlines involved a group fighting to bring a river back to its natural state; it drew the ire of a powerful congressman who got up in front of cameras to state that he didn’t understand putting the lives of fish above the lives of the farmers. And yet, he didn’t mention that the water was being sent elsewhere in the state, that the loss of the water took away jobs in the area where it originally ran and that the loss of the salmon also cost people jobs and a way of life.
As you can see, these cases are fraught with emotion, and millions (and even billions) of dollars hang in the balance. The issues championed by special interest groups vying in a power struggle that can affect thousands of people, or the future of our planet.
In other types of NGOs, paralegals may need to know international law to help facilitate shipping medicine to children in remote villages, or to get the proper paperwork for visas that allow medical personnel to enter refugee camps on the border of warring nations.
No matter which NGO a paralegal works for, it is bound to be a challenging, demanding, unique and rewarding experience.
Paralegals in the judicial environment can work in a number of roles. Some work for judges, where they help with legal research and may even have the opportunity to help draft aspects of decisions. This is an excellent position for a paralegal who has possible aspirations of continuing on to law school.
Let’s face it: Government is big and it doesn’t look to be getting smaller anytime soon, no matter what the politicians say. Every department and agency in the government has need of legal services and most of them need paralegals. One powerful piece of evidence that demonstrates this need is that the District of Columbia has the highest employment rate of paralegals in the country–higher than any state. Yet, it’s not just the federal government that employs paralegals, it’s also state and local governments.
Individuals who find employment as government paralegals will find that they need a solid working knowledge of the area of law in which their particular agency specializes. For example, they may need to be familiar with HUD, as mentioned earlier, or with insurance regulations, such as Obamacare. Admittedly, this can be a legal minefield, but these regulatory and other government agencies are a another area to consider when planning your paralegal career and looking for jobs.
Nurse paralegals are relatively new, but increasingly in demand. Insurance companies, medical companies and hospitals all have need for specialized legal support. Because of high medical costs, insurance companies and hospitals want to minimize litigation. Nurses who become paralegals are a valued asset for these companies, since they begin with the medical knowledge and can better understand the unique problems of the medical field.
While planning your paralegal career you have choices, whether you want to work for personal fulfillment, money or both. The permutations of these areas add even more possibilities to the list of where a paralegal can work, what areas of the law they can specialize in and how you define personal success.