Take the Law Into Your Hands as a Paralegal
The profession which made Erin Brokovich a household name, helped land Julia Roberts an Oscar and exposed a major contamination case which resulted in the largest settlement paid in US history – could just be the career for you.
If you aspire to make a difference like Erin did, read on for more. Quinton Meiring, INTEC College’s career guidance counsellor talks to us about the local industry and how to take the law into your hands as an enriching career.
What is a paralegal in simple terms?
QM: A paralegal works under the direct supervision of a lawyer. They usually cover areas such as criminal trials, real estate, government and estate planning. Paralegals – or legal assistants as they are sometimes called – have a sound basic knowledge of the legal system and can work independently to perform legal tasks. Although they are not qualified to represent clients, they play a vital role by lightening the attorney’s workload and doing essential administrative work and research.
Like Erin Brockovich, do paralegals assist attorneys in trials and help bring the convicts to book?
QM: Absolutely. This is why the job so rewarding. After months of research and gathering evidence to support the case, a criminal could receive a deserving sentence. Consider an attorney that produces a piece of evidence, or who cross examines a witness on the stand, or brings documents to court to introduce evidence – the ground work will have been prepared by the paralegal.
In South Africa, what career opportunities are available for paralegal graduates?
QM: Paralegals can be employed in both the public and private sectors. Examples include provincial administration, banks, insurance companies, magistrates, estate agents and civil service departments. Not all paralegals will work directly in solving crime, but they will help lawyers iron out any legalities that exist within their area of expertise.
Not everyone is suited the paralegal profession – what are the most common personality traits you should have before looking at joining this profession?
QM: As the profession is meticulous and requires accuracy, you will need to be precise and ensure things are done thoroughly. You should be dependable and able to work in a team – often for long hours. It goes without saying that you need a respect for the law and an ability to see right from wrong. Moreover strong verbal and written communication skills are imperative as is planning and organisational skills.
What kinds of interests should you ideally have to make a success of the profession?
QM: An interest in the law, people and business is key. You must also want to see that justice is served.
Where can you study to become a paralegal and how long does it take to complete the course?
QM: Students can study at university or technikon or they can study via the popular distance learning alternative. Colleges like INTEC are distance learning based and allow students to work at their own pace, from home, to their own deadlines while still being affordable, their Diplomas are also endorsed by the South African Institute of Legal Trainers (SAILT). For truly ambitious students who want to work as an intern at an attorney’s office to gain valuable practical skills or earn money while studying, distance learning is ideal.
The INTEC course takes between 12 to 24 months to complete and graduates are awarded with a Paralegal Studies Diploma. And for people who are already working in the industry, INTEC offers short courses that specialise in specific areas. So if you wanted to diversify your area of expertise and learn a new skill, you can.
Did You Know: Fast Facts on Paralegals
- The paralegal concept originated with the Attorney’s Assistants of the United Kingdom
- The Province of Ontario, Canada recently became the first jurisdiction in North America to provide for the licensing of independent paralegals by the Law Society of Upper Canada
- Paralegals are not allowed to directly contact consumers for the preparation of legal documents
- Law offices use paralegals to improve their profitability and deliver legal services to the public
- There is growing debate over the certification and licensing of legal assistants
Click here for more information on the courses offered in this exciting field of study.