Most legal support service professionals need postsecondary training in their field to prepare for their career. Title examiners, abstractors and searchers may be able to begin their careers with a high school diploma, although most employers prefer applicants with an associate's degree. Paralegals and court reporters are required to have an associate's or bachelor's degree.
Career Information at a Glance
There are many career options in the legal support services profession. Paralegals act as assistants to attorneys, court reporters provide media coverage of court cases and title examiners, abstractors and searchers assist in matters of real estate and property.
|Paralegals||Court Reporters||Title Examiners, Abstractors and Searchers|
|Required Education||Associate's or Bachelor's degree in paralegal studies||Associate's degree in court reporting||High school diploma|
|Other Requirements||Certification, if there is no degree in paralegal studies||Certification, if there is no degree in court reporting||A few years of experience in a related field|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$48,810||$49,500||$44,370|
|Job Growth (2014-2024)*||8%||2%||0%|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Legal Support Services Careers
Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, can perform specific legal work under the direction and supervision of a licensed, practicing attorney. They can perform legal research and investigative work and prepare some draft legal documents. Additional legal support services may include conducting interviews and helping lawyers get ready for upcoming trials or court actions. Law firms, government offices and larger businesses that have in-house legal departments may employ paralegals.
Education and Certification
An associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies is the common requirement for paralegals. Aspiring paralegals who already have a degree in another field may consider a certificate program. Topics of study include legal theory, research and writing, the legal system, ethics, law procedures and principles of office management. An internship usually provides students with some hands-on experience.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (CRP) and Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (RP) voluntary exams. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers voluntary credentials, which include the Certified Paralegal, Advanced Paralegal Certification and Certified Legal Assistant designations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that paralegals and legal assistants would see employment growth of 8% between 2014 and 2024, due in part to the cost effectiveness of hiring paralegals and legal assistants to handle routine legal support tasks. In 2015, the BLS reported that paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of about $48,810.
Postsecondary certificate or associate's degree training is a common path for aspiring court reporters. Using specialized transcription equipment, court reports take a written record of live proceedings, such as in a courtroom. Court reporters edit and prepare the recording for read-back and to be used as the official transcript of a legal proceeding.
Education, Licensing and Certification
Court reporters frequently earn an associate's degree in court reporting, which includes real-time translation and transcription, machine shorthand, legal and medical terminology and computer-aided transcription, although for those with previous experience in the field, certificate training is an alternative. Some states require court reporters to earn a license, and the requirements can vary by state, although an exam is common. Court reporters can also earn voluntary certification, such as the Registered Professional Reporter, Registered Merit Reporter, Registered Diplomate Reporter and Certified Realtime Reporter credentials.
The BLS predicted that court reporters would see a 2% increase in employment between 2014 and 2024. While job growth may be threatened by the increased use of digital audio recording technology, the BLS reported that the employment may receive a boost from new federal laws that require captioning of live events and proceedings for broadcast via the Internet and related media. In 2015, the BLS reported that the median salary for these professionals was $49,500.
Title Examiners, Abstractors and Searchers
Real estate companies, title insurance companies or law firms may employ title examiners, abstractors and searchers. They research real estate and property records and prepare reports that describe or indicate the status of the land, home or building - specifically legal descriptions, mortgages, tax information, ownership and applicable zoning regulations. Depending on the employer, some people in this occupation may help prepare formal property descriptions or title insurance policies.
Based on information gleaned from a survey of job postings for title examiners, abstractors and searchers found on CareerBuilder.com in July 2012, it is possible to obtain a job with only a high school diploma and a few years of related experience, although some employers prefer to hire candidates with a 2-year degree. An associate's degree program in paralegal studies can also prepare students for a career as a title abstractor, examiner or searcher.
The BLS reported in 2015 that title examiners, abstractors and searchers earned a median annual salary of $44,370. The legal, insurance, real estate, government and oil and gas extraction industries employed the greatest number of workers in this career. The BLS projects little to no change in employment numbers for these professionals from 2014 to 2024.
With an associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies it's possible to become a paralegal, assisting lawyers as they prepare for legal proceedings; court reporters document the proceedings in court, and need to have an associate's degree. Title examiners, abstractors and searchers track information about property ownership, zoning and other factors related to property ownership. Although a degree is not always required for this profession, employers prefer to hire individuals with at least an associate's degree.