If you have an interest in the legal system, the ability to multitask and decent communication skills then a career as a Paralegal could be for you.
As a Paralegal, your role and responcilibities are broad. A Paralegal can do anything in a law firm other than represent a person in a court of law and give direct legal advice. You will be involved in conducting legal and business research for lawyers and providing legal support to attorneys. Paralegals also do administrive work and are involved in filing various documents including motions, memoranda and briefs in different court systems. As a Paralegal, you will also accompany lawyers to court or to see clients and be responsible for organising case files as well as fact checking.
The areas of specialisation in Paralegal work include crime, employment, litigation and advocacy.
In order to meet minimum entry requirments for Paralegal studies, you will not need to have taken any particular subjects in high school. However, you will need to have completed your high school education.
The following institutions are recommended for studies in the Paralegal field:
- University of Johannesburg (UJ)
- INTEC College
- Lyceum Correspondence College
- Cape Penninsula University of Technology (CPUT) – APS of 30
- The South African Law School
In order to qualify as a Paralegal, you will need a formal qualification. However, you will not need to study as many years as lawyers and attorneys do. A tertiary qualification in Paralegal studies will take between 3 months to 3/4 years to complete. There are a range of courses available from a variety of institutions in South Africa. You could study towards a Bachelor in Paralegel Studies, a National Certificate in Paralegal Practice or a National Diploma in Law (Paralegal Studies). Alternatively, you could have a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant field of study. After obatining a formal qualification, it is best to get experience in the field.
You will need to have the following skills to succeed as a Paralegal:
- good written and oral communication
- ability to multitask
- attention to detail
- knowledge of the law and legal principles/terminology
- proficient in computer programmes
- ability to work in a team
- research skills
- ability to work underpressure
- organisational skills
As a qualified Paralegal, you will have the option to work in either the public or private sector. Paralegals are likely to work for a law firm, the legal department of a company or in court. Regardless of the environment you work in, you will work closely in a team with attorneys and lawyers. Depending on the space you are in, you will need to assist in meeting client needs.
In general, your working hours will be the normal 9am – 5pm. However, Paralegals will be expected to work longer hours during busy periods and when deadlines need to be met.
As a Paralegal, your salary can range depending on whether you work in the public or private sector. In general, the average annual salary of a Paralegal working in South Africa is R141 366.
Here are a few things you can expect from a career as a Paralegal:
- most of the work you do is office-based however, you might be required to go out to court of meet clients with lawyers
- the dress code is usually formal to maintain a sense of professionalism
- competition for Paralegal positions can be high in some commercial and legal firms
- legal experience will stand you in good stead so it is advised to do pro-bono work while studying