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What does a Paralegal do?

Your job duties as a paralegal, or legal assistant, will vary depending on the type of law you work in. But there are common tasks for paralegals across all legal fields, such as helping lawyers prepare for hearings, closings, trials and meetings. This equals a lot of time researching and reading legal documents. More specifically, as a paralegal, your work day might involve the following tasks:

  • Preparing legal arguments for a case
  • Drafting a legal document
  • Organizing and tracking files
  • Obtaining an affidavit

Increasingly, paralegals are sharing more responsibilities with lawyers. But there are some duties that are off-limits to paralegals; for example, you must be a lawyer to set legal fees, offer legal advice and present cases in court.


Paralegal job options

Most paralegals work for law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental offices, but the type of work paralegals do is as limitless as the law. What kind of legal work would best suit you? Here is a sample, with brief descriptions:

  • Personal Injury: As a paralegal in this field, you will spend most of your time helping lawyers build litigation cases. For instance, you might conduct research on a company being sued.
  • Corporate: Here, you will help corporations manage day-to-day legal operations. For instance, you might handle legal filings under the supervision of outside counsel or ensure that corporate records comply with state and federal laws.
  • Family Law: In this field, you will assist the lawyer in cases of divorce, separation, child support and other family-focused legal issues. For instance, you might draft a separation agreement or prepare protection order pleadings.

Other paralegals work in criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, real estate and immigration.

The education and job prospects of a paralegal

How long does it take to prepare for this exciting career? For most, just two years in a paralegal associate degree program. Some paralegals earn a bachelor’s degree, while others earn certificates. Most who earn certificates, which take only a few months to complete, already hold degrees in other subjects.

Associate degree paralegal programs include courses in technical writing, legal research and computerized legal applications. Many programs include internships, providing students with on-the-job experience before graduation. Internships usually last several months and are completed at law firms, public defender or attorney general offices, legal aid organizations, banks and more.

For a career that requires no more than a two-year degree, the paralegal profession offers good salaries. More great news can be found in the projected growth in the field: the BLS predicts that employment should grow by 28 percent.

payroll administrator

What does a Payroll Administrator do?

As a payroll administrator, you will be in charge of very important paperwork. As the name implies, you will ensure employees are paid. Specifically, your job will involve managing everything to do with payments, withholdings and time-off reporting. For instance, you will oversee some of the following:

  • Direct deposits
  • Benefits withholding
  • Payroll deduction, garnishments and levies
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • W-2s

Yes, a lot of paperwork. But thankfully, for you and the forests, much of this “paperwork” is being shifted to electronic files and systems. So you will spend a lot of work time on your computer. Therefore, it helps if you are computer proficient. If not, earning a certificate or degree in the field can help get you onboard.

payroll administrator

Payroll administrator: sometimes sticky business

Mostly, you will be dealing with rather cut-and-dry matters as a payroll administrator, right? You need to take the hours someone worked and pay them accordingly. But while you will undoubtedly manage all duties with ease, it is not as simple as this. You will need to keep track of paid leave, vacation and sick time in your hours-for-pay calculations. And sometimes, things can get a bit sticky for payroll administrators. Consider these real-case scenarios:

  • Year 2009: Ring any bells? This was a Leap Year, a time when employees around the globe were asking their payroll administrators: “Will I get an extra paycheck?”
  • Year 2011: Bernie Madoff, of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was caught paying phantom employees. You would not have wanted to be Bernie’s payroll administrator.
  • Year Anytime: You are aware that one employee takes two hours for her one hour lunch break, while you see another employee on a televised baseball game the day he was home with “the flu”. Both employees are your friends. As a payroll administrator, what do you do?

Educating the payroll administrator

The first line of business: how to take the high road (even when friends are involved). Your education program should teach you all about payroll ethics and concerns. It should also teach you about computerized accounting and bookkeeping programs and other software needed for the job.

While some payroll administrators are trained on the job, employers are increasingly seeking those with certificates or degrees. A two-year associate degree in payroll administration, accounting, bookkeeping or related field could prepare you for the job. Once you find employment, you should consider earning the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification. To become CPP certified, you will need to have worked in payroll for at least 18 months, successfully complete classes and pass an examination.

In addition to earning a decent salary, being a payroll administrator should earn you respect: after all, you will be the one who pays the bills.

What does a Payroll Clerk do?

A payroll clerk is an indispensable part of a company’s accounting and human resources department. While payroll clerks are often unheralded for their efforts, every company employee thinks of them the moment paychecks are delayed. That’s why employers depend on payroll clerks to be sharp, efficient and dependable.

Depending on your company and role, you may be asked to perform diverse and key functions to process paychecks and statements, track workers’ vacation and sick leaves, reconcile payroll discrepancies, verify hours and compute tax deductions.

You’ll need to learn payroll or accounting software that companies depend upon to process employee earnings and information. A payroll clerk needs to have a basic knowledge of accounting procedures, financial reports and spreadsheets.

payroll clerk

The U.S. Labor Department reports that employers typically require payroll clerks to have strong communication skills – both verbally and by email. You’ll need solid skills in mathematical reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to maintain strong ethics when it comes to protecting employee privacy. You’ll know how much everyone earns.

Career training for payroll clerks

Someone interested in becoming a payroll clerk can attend trade or business schools or a community college. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) identifies key coursework in:

  • Federal and state wage and tax withholding laws
  • Compensation and overtime procedures
  • Computing unemployment taxes
  • Administering payroll forms
  • Benefits and compensation
  • Disability and sick pay

The American Payroll Association offers professional certifications for clerks to verify their skill knowledge and expertise. Certifications can help you advance in your career and are offered at the levels of the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). Exams are offered at more than 300 locations in the United States and Canada.

You may also choose to take post-secondary courses in bookkeeping, accounting or human resources. Payroll personnel can also train to work as payroll auditing or bookkeeping clerks. You can bolster auditing credentials after two years’ experience by passing The Certified Bookkeeper (CB) examination offered by the AIPB.

Ever-emerging technology may further computerize payroll activities, resulting in a lower demand for the number of clerks serving a company or corporation. If you feel like growing your career, consider returning to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting, human resources, business or finance.

Earnings for payroll clerks

States with the highest level of employment included California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania. The District of Columbia, Connecticut, Alaska, Maryland and California offered the highest pay.

If you love numbers and solving problems–and want to play a vital role in the efficient operation of America’s private companies or governmental organizations–consider becoming a payroll clerk.