|Frequently Asked Questions: What is a paralegal/legal assistant?
Florida Statute 57.104 defines a legal assistant as a:
“Person, who under the supervision and direction of a licensed attorney engages in legal research, and case development or planning in relation to modifications or initial proceedings, services, processes, or application; or who prepares or interprets legal documents or selects, compiles, and uses technical information from references such as digests, encyclopedias, or practice manuals and analyzes and follows procedural problems that involve independent decisions.”
What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?
The terms are used interchangeably, much as the terms lawyer and attorney are used interchangeably. Every state, including Florida, regulates the practice of law through a licensing procedure. In all states, paralegals/legal assistants are prohibited from practicing law without a license to practice law.
Where are paralegals/legal assistants employed?
Most paralegals are employed in the traditional law office. As the profession has grown, opportunities in other employment environments have opened, as in corporations, government agencies, banking, insurance companies, and other firms and institutions. What skills are needed to be a successful paralegal?
You need to have good organizational skills and be detail-oriented. Since paralegals often work directly with clients, good communication skills and being able to use analytical and critical thinking skills are important. Paralegals are expected to uphold the same standards of maintaining confidentiality of clients’ legal concerns as attorneys.
Does a student need to make application to the program?
No, there is no separate application process for the program. Once a student has applied to HCC and has met with an Academic Advisor regarding their course of study, then they may select to be a degree seeking student for this program.
Is this a degree program?
Yes. We offer both an Associate in Applied Science Degree and an Associate in Science Degree in Legal Assisting. A student must complete a minimum of 64 credit hours to receive an A.A.S degree or an A.S. degree.
How long will it take me to get my degree in Legal Assisting?
The answer to this question depends on whether you are able to attend classes as a full time student or as a part-time student. If you are able to take 13 to 15 credit hours per academic session, including general education requirements and paralegal program requirements, then the program may be completed in two years. If you are only able to take one or two classes per academic session, then it could take you approximately four years or more.
Are my paralegal courses transferable to a college or university?
There are several colleges or universities in Florida that offer a Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies, and depending on their specific requirements, a student may transfer our AS degree into their four-year program. Currently, we have articulation agreements with St. Pete College and Florida Gulf Coast University.
What if I already have a Bachelor degree or higher, is there a certificate program I could take without getting an AS degree in Legal Assisting before being considered for a job in this field?
Yes. We offer an Advanced Technical Certificate Program for students with a Bachelor degree or higher and who wish to take the Certified Legal Assistant exam administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. A total of 21 credit hours are required for this certificate. The CLA exam is a voluntary, two day exam and those who pass the exam are awarded a certificate by NALA. This Certified Legal Assistant designation is not a license, but is recognized throughout the United States as an indication that the student is knowledgeable in federal law and procedures.
Does the paralegal program offer career placement?
The college has a career placement office for all students that they may utilize in finding job opportunities. For our program, we do not guarantee job placement, but we do assist the student in trying to find positions. Many local law firms and corporate legal departments contact us when they have vacancies and we circulate this information to our students. It is the students’ responsibility to follow through with sending resumes and interviewing for positions that may be available. Many of our students have found part-time and full time employment in this way.
What is the salary range for paralegals/legal assistants?
Starting salaries in this geographical area are between $28,000 and $32,000 depending on the size of the firm, your skills, and your ability to market yourself. Individuals who possess a Bachelor’s degree or higher may start at a higher salary with some law firms or legal departments.