Legal Researcher Career Profile

A legal researcher performs the basic research for a lawyer to prepare their cases and documents for a legal proceeding. Legal researchers, or paralegals, will perform the preliminary work for a lawyer such as looking up similar cases, decisions, performing legal or historical research and by providing basic documentation, such as mortgages, liens or previous convictions.

Basic Tasks

A legal researcher will begin his day by reading the new cases that have arrived in their in-box and determining a plan of research. This plan will include the list of appropriate sources of information, such as legal or article databases, or relevant Internet searches. The researcher will then execute the searches based on the keywords or phrases, being careful to execute a relevant search since access to the law databases can be quite expensive and it is one of their job responsibilities to frugally manage the research budget.

Based on the results of their research, the legal researcher will provide a summary of the documents that they have found and highlight relevant points in each document to draw them to the attention of the lawyer handling the case, according the preferences of that lawyer. Their summary is included with the research he has added to the case, and clients are also billed for the time spent on research. A well-executed search will usually not require revisions or additional research, though some cases or projects may require additional work on the part of the researcher, or if he is checking the work of a junior researcher.

Legal researchers may work individually or be assigned to a team of researchers, depending on the scope of the client's request. Most legal researchers work at a desk, usually in front of a computer, though they will sometimes also make phone calls or visit a library to find relevant information for the cases assigned to them. They will read documents and write summaries, so strong written communication skills are a must.

Schedule

Most legal researchers work full-time, Monday through Friday, though some overtime may be required if material needs to be assembled quickly, if there is a backlog of work or during peak periods. Some legal researchers are also able to work part-time or freelance, though most of these positions are more readily available to experienced paralegals.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for a paralegal is twenty-three dollars an hour. The highest hourly wages, at twenty-nine dollars an hour, are paid to the legal researchers that work for the federal government. The top paying states for this occupation are the District of Columbia, New York and California, and the average hourly wage for paralegals in these states is twenty-eight dollars an hour.

Opportunities

The majority of legal research jobs are available in law firms or working for individual lawyers. There are opportunities for work with the government at all levels. Other legal researchers work in the insurance industry. Some legal researchers also perform contract work, so they work for many different employers on a freelance basis. Depending on their training and experience, there may also be opportunities in a law library or to become the primary legal researcher or supervisor who checks and verifies the work of junior researchers.