Paralegals play an important part in the legal system, doing much of the background work that is required before a case can be presented in court. Paralegals help lawyers get prepared for court hearings and trials. They also handle many client interviews, draft legal documents, research legal cases, and summarize and organize information.
Working in a criminal law office gives a paralegal a chance to research the specifics of the case and organize the facts. They may prepare reports and briefs for the lawyer who employs them. While they cannot give legal advice or represent a client in court, a paralegal works closely with lawyers to prepare their cases for court. They also have contact with the clients and with others within the legal profession.
Paralegal work usually requires a person to have at least two years of community college or specialty training. This usually earns the person an associate's degree. Sometimes, law firms will hire people directly out of high school and will train them to become paralegals.
If the student goes into a two or four-year training program, it is important that they find one that offers job experience before they graduate. This will help them to secure a job and will also expose them to different areas in which they may wish to specialize.
A four-year bachelor's degree in paralegal studies will give a person an advantage over others applying for jobs. Certification gives another advantage. Once the training program is complete, the paralegal can sit for a certification examination in the state where they live. Passing this exam names one as either a certified legal assistant or certified paralegal, this can provide an edge when competing for jobs.
Criminal law is one area in which paralegals choose to specialize. This can mean additional training, but it also means greater prestige and financial compensation. A paralegal working in a criminal law office will coordinate the lawyer's appearances and be sure that they have the documentation they need for each situation. In the case of a criminal defense attorney, their paralegal will work closely with the prosecution to catalog any evidence that is to be presented in court.
A paralegal working in a criminal law setting may find and interview witnesses, obtain and read police reports, summarize information, write and file plea agreements, meet with probation officers and prepare presentations that will be given by the attorney before a grand jury.
They may also interview witnesses, maintain and organize case files, reviews court records for information, maintains the lawyer's schedule, and checks facts on all documents before proofreading them.
There are many areas that require paralegals that specialize in criminal law, including prosecutor's offices, criminal defense attorney's offices, public defender's offices, prisons, district attorney's offices and courts. The work usually requires a person to be able to work alone but as part of a team working toward a common goal. While paralegals do have a great deal of responsibility, they are closely supervised and monitored by the attorneys who employ them.