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PARALEGAL STUDIES

A Career Where You Can Help Others

The Paralegal Program helps prepare students for employment in the legal field as paralegals. Paralegals typically work under the direction of attorneys. SWC paralegal graduates work in a variety of legal settings in the greater San Diego area as well as in our local Chula Vista and South Bay service areas. Students learn the concepts of procedural and substantive law, in both federal and state courts. Several of our paralegals work in courthouses throughout the county. Graduates take the written and oral communication skills they learn here to a legal setting and prepare legal documents, including but not limited to court pleadings and contracts.

Students use the critical thinking skills they obtain from identifying legal ethics issues and analyzing cases in the classroom to help them interview clients and prepare for trial as working paralegals. The Rules of Professional Conduct carry with the students from the classroom into the work place, and include the proper conduct of paralegals in their profession.

Students also take a Legal Computer Skills class at Southwestern College, which helps them become familiar with a variety of legal software, such as billing, legal case management, and trial software. Paralegals can use technology to draft and index documents and prepare presentations, as well as use electronic database management for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials that are related to a trial, such as emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites. Graduates often work in a law firm or other legal setting, in specialized areas of law such as immigration, family law, criminal law, bankruptcy, personal injury, contracts, wills, trusts, and probate.

Southwestern College offers two programs, Paralegal studies and Paralegal studies—Bilingual, which provide students with a litigation background and focus on an understanding of international legal issues which impact San Diego due to its geographical location. 

Both programs prepare students for rewarding careers in the legal industry as paralegal professionals working under the direct supervision of lawyers in the public and private sectors. A paralegal's responsibilities can be broad and varied including preparing and translating legal documents, interviewing clients, performing legal research, investigation of facts, preparing cases for trial, organizing and managing documents.  Paralegals often work with attorneys in specialized areas of law such as immigration, family law, probate, workers compensation, criminal law and civil litigation.

Paralegals are also known as Legal Assistants and are regulated by California law under the Business & Professions Code §6450.  Paralegals are required to work under the supervision of an attorney, and may not give out legal advice.

Employment within the legal field can vary. A larger firm may require a bachelor’s degree, and the prospective student with one would then apply to take the Paralegal Certificate. Smaller and more localized firms often require a two-year associate degree, and the prospective student would apply for the Paralegal Associate degree if they do not yet have a degree. In addition, duties within a firm can vary. Some paralegals may work on a specific phase of a case while others help handle a case from beginning to end. Many of the employers of our graduates appreciate second language skills in addition to English.

Other related potential jobs include: claims examiner, compensation and benefits manager, court clerk, customs agent, forms and procedures specialist, freelance paralegal, legal assistant, investigator (for local, state, and federal departments and agencies), legal aid, legal research assistant, legal technician, and title examiner. This training can also provide entrance to some careers in administration of justice such as youth authority, probation, and parole officer when a candidate passes appropriate tests and gains related experience.

Note: The Paralegal Studies Program prepares students to work under the supervision of an attorney in accordance with California law. A paralegal may not engage in the unauthorized practice of law by accepting cases, giving legal advice, appearing in court, or setting fees for clients. To do so would be a crime in the state of California.

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Paralegals typically:

  • Investigate the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations and legal articles
  • Organize and present the information
  • Keep information related to cases or transactions in computer databases
  • Write reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and other documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials and corporate meetings; however, their specific duties may vary depending on the size of the firm or organization.

In smaller firms, paralegals duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing information, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments and draft documents to be filed with the court.

In larger organizations, paralegals work mostly on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, a litigation paralegal might only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers and collect and organize evidence for hearings. Litigation paralegals often do not attend trials, but might prepare trial documents or draft settlement agreements.

Law firms increasingly use technology and computer software for managing documents and preparing for trials. Paralegals use computer software to draft and index documents and prepare presentations. In addition, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be up to date on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials that are related to a trial, such as emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.

Paralegals can assume more responsibilities by specializing in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law and real estate. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.

Paralegal tasks may differ depending on the type of department or the size of the law firm they work for.

Career Options

A few require a certificate of achievement, some require an associate in science degree, and some require a bachelor's degree: claims examiner, compensation and benefits manager, corporate legal assistant, court clerk, customs agent, forms and procedures specialist, freelance paralegal, legal assistant, investigator (for local, state, and federal departments and agencies), legal aide, legal research assistant, legal technician, patent agent, and title examiner. This training can also provide entrance to some careers in administration of justice such a youth authority, probation, and parole officer when a candidate passes appropriate tests and gains related experience.

Paralegal Information

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Cesar Chavez Building

Professor Emily Lynch Morissette, Esq. Elisabeth Shapiro

Director of Paralegal ProgramDepartment Chair

Current Catalog

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