Criminal Law Paralegal

Criminal Law Paralegal

Della Street may have been Perry Mason’s secretary, not his criminal law paralegal, but when thinking of a paralegal career, she comes to some people’s mind.  She consults with Perry on cases, sits with him in court and generally knows the facts of the case almost as well as he does.  When non-legal people think of the job of an attorney or paralegal, criminal law often comes to mind, even though relatively few people practice it.

What is a Criminal Law Paralegal’s Job?

The criminal law paralegal job description depends on the type of criminal law and the side for whom the paralegal works.  Though the terms don’t appear in law books, criminal law practice is roughly divided into “white collar crimes” and “non-white collar crimes”.  While it is sometimes said that “White collar criminals are the ones who have enough money to pay the bill”, the general distinction between white collar crime and other crime is that white collar crimes are financial crimes that involve fraud and concealment rather than shooting and looting.

Non-White Collar Crime

Most non-white collar criminal defense work is done by attorneys in small offices near the courthouse.  They may be appointed by the court and paid through the public defenders office, or they may be paid by the accused or his/her family.  Generally speaking, this is a volume business where the attorney shepherds the accused through the system and cuts the best deal he can.  While this type of criminal attorney can spend a lot of time in court at all the various pre-trial hearings, plea deals and sentencing hearings, there is also a lot of routine paperwork that is part of the criminal law paralegal job.  The criminal law paralegal’s job may include interfacing with investigators or conducting research at the courthouse regarding the client or other defendants in the case. The criminal law paralegal’s duties may include reviewing evidence gathered in the client’s case to see if there is anything useful for the defense.

Defendants who are unable to afford an attorney are represented by the public defender’s office.  In the Public Defender’s office, the criminal law paralegal’s job description is similar to that in a private attorney’s office; however the volume of work is often higher and criminal law paralegal’s job often includes supporting overworked, underpaid and inexperienced new attorneys.

Opposite the defense attorney is the prosecutor–either the District Attorney or the US Attorney (usually their assistants).  The criminal law paralegal job in those offices is similar to the criminal law paralegal job on the defense side. The paralegal keeps track of files, drafts routine paperwork, conducts research and may interview witnesses.

White Collar Crime

In most cities there is a relatively small cadre of attorneys who handle white collar criminal defense cases.  The criminal law paralegal’s job description if she or he works for such an attorney more closely resembles that of corporate law paralegal than anything else.

Document Production and Review

White collar cases often begin with Grand Jury subpoenas to the target of the investigation and his/her associates.  These subpoenas call for the production of business and/or financial records.  It is often the criminal law paralegal’s job to arrange to have these records copied and numbered, and to create an index of what is being produced.

If charges are brought, the defense will be given access to documents produced by other witnesses.  One of the criminal law paralegal’s duties may be to pick up copies from the prosecution or to download them from digital repositories.  The paralegal will often create an index to those documents and perhaps conduct a first review for relevancy before large amounts of attorney time are spent reviewing documents that are irrelevant to the defense case.

The criminal law paralegal’s job may involve reviewing a large number of documents looking for specified things and creating reports for the attorney.  For example, the paralegal may be asked to review years worth of checks written by the client to create a list of all checks written to one person or business.

Other Fact Development

The criminal law paralegal’s duties may include reviewing all media accounts regarding a certain person or event and creating a timeline .

The paralegal may assist with witness interviews, either by joining the attorney or investigator for interviews or by actually conducting the interview.

Motion Practice

As discovery nears its end, formal motions are often brought to dismiss part of the case, exclude evidence or move the trial.  It may be  part of the criminal law paralegal’s duties to help with research for these motions, proofread them and gather the attachments for them.  If the court still requires that documents be physically filed with the clerk, the paralegal is the one who has to get it to the court on time.

Preparation for Trial

As the white collar case gets ready for trial it is part of the criminal paralegal’s job to create physical and/or digital benchbooks–binders that contain the documents which will be introduced into evidence.  Generally speaking, the binders of the prosecution are almost complete before trial starts because they know what they have to prove in order to convict.  They know what documents they need to get into evidence and they will be the first to present their cases.  The prosecution’s benchbooks are usually well-organized and prepared before trial as one of their criminal law paralegal’s duties.  The defense paralegal may prepare benchbooks ahead of trial but has to be prepared to find other documents that become necessary as trial progresses.

The paralegal needs to compile a list of all witnesses with contact information and see to it that they receive subpoenas. Sometimes the paralegal will serve the subpoenas; generally investigators get that job.


During trial, the paralegal is the document manager.  If a digital projection system is used to display evidence, it is often the criminal paralegal’s job to run it. Once the defense starts its case, the paralegal coordinates with the witnesses to get them to court promptly.  It is not uncommon for the paralegal to be in charge of the lunch arrangements.


After the trial, it is generally the criminal law paralegal’s job to make sure everything finds its way back to the office.  If the defense wins, then the boxes need to be reviewed and duplicate documents purged before the file is archived.  If the prosecution wins, there will be more motions and an appeal and the paralegal may help with those briefs in the same way as the pre-trial motions.

Criminal Law Paralegal Salary

The criminal law paralegal salary depends on the employer.  Working for the district attorney or the state public defender does not usually pay well.  Working for the U.S. Attorney does.  According to Glass Door , federal government paralegals make between $43,168 and $81,694, and the generosity of federal government benefits is well known. The Paralegal Today salary survey shows that the average criminal law paralegal salary is slightly lower than the average paralegal salary, it does not differentiate between the types of criminal law practice.

Paralegals who want to feel like their work makes a real difference in people’s lives may enjoy a criminal law paralegal job.