A paralegal is more than just a secretary, although they are sometimes called that or legal assistants. Most have a paralegal degree or other professional qualification. Although they do not attend law school, most do have a bachelor's degree. At minimum, a paralegal must have attended a certification program.
Individuals should seek out training courses approved by the American Bar Association. At entry level, paralegals are likely to be employed as a paralegal clerk. Clerks perform the most basic of duties while receiving further training and guidance. Working for a larger firm or a corporate legal department is likely to require a bachelor's degree, or exception by the association.
A legal secretary needs to be highly skilled at research. The use of law libraries and the internet is vital. They are required to prepare documents, which is also often computerized. An experienced assistant may be given much leeway to research and investigate supporting documentation for a case.
Paralegals are sometimes required to accompany lawyers to the court room. They need to be aware of court procedures and able to understand the requirements of different kinds of litigation.
Paralegal managers supervise paralegals in large firms or legal departments. They may hand out assignments and supervise the work of more junior colleagues. Very small firms, however, may only have one or two paralegals working for them. Many paralegals, like lawyers, specialize in one particular area. For example, they may train in accident or criminal law.
Essentially, a paralegal is an administrative professional, but one with duties that cross over into the lower levels of the work of a lawyer. They are essential to the smooth running of law firms and legal departments and a growth area.