The paralegal job description is tough to pigeonhole — it varies considerably from one firm to another, depending on size and other factors. But there's no question that the role has expanded in recent years, making the paralegal position one of the most rapidly evolving legal jobs.

Both law firms and businesses look to these legal professionals to perform multiple functions. They are increasingly expected to handle substantive legal work, including duties previously performed as part of the legal job descriptions of junior-level lawyers, such as research, trial preparation, patent filings, and regulatory and eDiscovery matters. By allocating work that doesn't require a licensed lawyer to paralegals, firms are able to keep legal costs in check and meet client demands for more cost-effective services.

Aspects of the paralegal job description

In addition to the considerable legal duties performed by paralegals, the paralegal job description often calls for technology expertise. Newly expanded paralegal roles require candidates to be skilled at using eDiscovery software, e-filing systems and various practice management applications. In some firms, especially smaller ones, paralegals also use their technical skills to assist with the day-to-day aspects of practice management, such as tracking legal time and expenses and other administrative tasks. Hybrid or blended paralegal/legal secretary roles are becoming more common in listings of legal jobs as organizations streamline legal support functions to improve efficiencies.

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Legal professionals benefit from practice area expertise

Although the paralegal job description will probably continue to come with the implicit requirement that professionals wear multiple hats, today's legal market now favors specialists over generalists. A majority (66 percent) of lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal cited practice area expertise as the most marketable attribute for paralegals. Technological proficiency followed, with 13 percent of the survey response.

Paralegals with expertise in in-demand areas, including litigation, compliance, healthcare, contracts, real estate and intellectual property are seeing strong demand from law firms and corporations.

A sample of employer postings for paralegal jobs

To illustrate how the paralegal job role has evolved — and the most sought-after skills — here's a sample of job requirements listed in a handful of current paralegal jobs postings:

Paralegal — Candidate must feel comfortable working in a small law firm environment, wearing many hats and taking on leadership. At least three years of litigation experience is a must, with substantive trial prep experience being a strong plus. Duties include drafting litigation documents and various trial prep duties.

Senior contracts paralegal — This person will be the subject matter expert for contracts and report to a corporate attorney. Requires drafting, analyzing and negotiating a wide range of contracts and agreements. Must have the ability to identify and assess risk and communicate effectively with internal team members, business partners and outside counsel.

Intellectual property paralegal — Provide assistance to attorneys and trial teams with all aspects of intellectual property case management, including the discovery process; trial preparation; case investigation; tracking and communicating case-related dates and information; database maintenance; and the review and preparation of documents, reports and correspondence. Position involves direct contact with clients.

Litigation paralegal — Manage all aspects of large-scale, complex litigation. Requires full understanding of litigation motion practice, discovery, arbitration, trial and appellate procedures.

As these examples demonstrate, paralegals have become indispensable legal team members. And, as law offices continue to evolve and operate more like traditional businesses, the paralegal job description is likely to keep changing as well.

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