A profession in the legal sector can be extremely gratifying.
If you’ve always had a passion for the legal sector and can see yourself working in it, a career as a paralegal might be ideal for you.
MANCOSA offers a Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies that equips students with various skills to flourish within the legal field.
But what is a paralegal? What type of duties do they perform? And how can you become a paralegal in South Africa?
This article will discuss what a paralegal is, explain what they do, give you reasons why you should consider paralegal studies , and more so you can decide if a career in law is right for you.
What is a paralegal?
A paralegal is a person who has extensive knowledge of the law, but they’re not a qualified lawyer.
They’re often employed in law firms and work in a specific department. They’re essentially legal assistants and perform various administrative tasks and legal work.
While paralegals may complete many of the same tasks that a qualified lawyer can, they can only do so on behalf of and under the supervision of a licensed lawyer or attorney.
What does a paralegal do?
Paralegals perform many duties. Some of their most common tasks include:
- Interviewing clients
- Document management
- Conducting research
- Taking minutes during meetings
- Ordering office supplies
- Administrative support
- Client care and progression
- Project management
- Drafting legal documents
- Filing legal documents
- Managing lawyers’ schedules
- And more
They can also choose to specialise in a particular area, such as family law, criminal defence law, real estate law, corporate law, etc.
For example, if they choose corporate law, they’ll be involved in the risk management aspects of businesses, helping them remain legal in a national and international context.
Specialised paralegals have a higher demand and also often earn higher levels of compensation. Many freelance paralegals find specialising in a particular field the best way to stand out and market themselves to law firms needing help in a particular area.
To perform all these duties, they must have exceptional organisational, communication, teamwork, analytical, and research skills.
6 Reasons why you should become a paralegal
A career as a paralegal can be highly fulfilling and the ideal option for someone who is super passionate about the legal sector.
Here are some of the top reasons why you should become a paralegal.
- High market demand
The demand for paralegals in SA is rising as the number of attorneys and lawyers continues to increase. There are currently close to 30,000 practising attorneys and 5,500 candidate attorneys in South Africa. Many of these attorneys require paralegals (some more than one) to help them with their administrative and legal duties. As such, paralegals have higher job security and can also expect good salaries.
Currently, paralegals in South Africa earn an average of around R17,000 per month. However, those residing in specific cities make more. E.g. Paralegals in Cape Town, Western Cape, earn close to R24,000 per month.
- High market demand
- Flexible working conditions
Paralegals tend to have a flexible working schedule depending on the cases or projects they’re working on.
As such, it allows them to work in the legal industry without being exposed to constant long hours and high levels of pressure.
- Career advancement opportunities
Many paralegals can go on to study law. As a result of their knowledge and skills in performing administrative and legal tasks, they’ll have an easier time studying towards a degree.
This means that if you’re unsure if a career in law is right for you and you don’t want to take a chance on the cost or time, studying for a higher certificate in paralegal studies is ideal. Taking this route will allow you to test the waters and determine whether it truly is the right fit for you.
- Real-life courtroom experience
Paralegals often need to be present in courtroom settings to provide attorneys with anything they may need during trials.
This provides an excellent opportunity for them to gain real-life courtroom experience — which isn’t available to members of the public.
- Building research skills
Paralegals are expected to have exceptional research skills. You’ll be required to conduct general market research and research about specific topics related to particular cases.
This will help build your research skill set — making it possible for you to have a stronger resume when applying for new positions.
- Challenging and rewarding work
A career as a paralegal is ideal for people who love a good challenge and enjoy making a difference in the community.
Since there are many different areas to specialise in, such as NGOs, environmental issues, and family law, you’ll have the opportunity to make a massive difference in people’s lives or the environment. Knowing you’re an irreplaceable part of the law field provides immense satisfaction.
How to become a paralegal in South Africa?
To become a paralegal in South Africa, you’ll have to study towards a paralegal certificate course.
However, unlike most legal careers, which require a professional to have pursued their LLB (which takes about four years to complete), you won’t have to dedicate as much time. Paralegal certificate programs generally take about one year to complete.
MANCOSA offers a Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies.
This paralegal studies course will teach you comprehensive knowledge of the South African legal environment and equip you with vital problem-solving, administrative, and communication skills.
After completing your certificate, you’ll have the skills and knowledge required to be hired by law and auditing firms, banks and other financial companies, and in the private sector as a paralegal or legal assistant.
Study a Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies with MANCOSA
Studying the Higher Certificate in Paralegal Studies is an excellent option if you think a career in law might be for you, but you don’t want to commit to too much time and costs.
If you’re more interested in the financial side of the law, then you could also consider looking at the Higher Certificate in Tax Administration.