As part of our invitation to other bloggers to guest here on the Death Penalty Blog, Terry and I are happy to publish the following article sent to us by Nancy Farrell, who writes for the career-advice website, Criminal Justice Degrees Guide.  Here, without edit or change, is Nancy’s article for your consideration.  Thanks, Nancy!  — Reba Kennedy, Esq.


In any case dealing with capital punishment, indicted persons require a strong capital defense team to represent them in court. Those accused of offenses, punishable by death, are provided with up to two attorneys, and both must be well-versed in the laws relating to the particular case. According to judicial conference policy, council "should have distinguished prior experience in the trial, appeal, or post-conviction review of federal death penalty cases, or distinguished prior experience in state death penalty trials, appeals, or post-conviction review that, in combination with co-counsel, will assure high quality representation.” What about essential capital defense personnel assisting the attorneys with the case, such as paralegals? How experienced should they be? What are the educational and experience requirements for paralegals working on capital defense cases?

Educational Requirements

Paralegals in the US are generally required to complete at least an associate’s degree, although sometimes corporations and firms allow relevant experience to override a candidate’s lack of higher education. There are many programs directly related to paralegal work, and some paralegals have majored in pre-law or obtained associate degrees in paralegal studies. Courses topics for both degree programs include: civil procedure, criminal law and procedure, ethics, law office administration and management, legal research and writing, and litigation. In addition to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, some firms ask paralegals to obtain paralegal certification before their start date. This certification is not mandatory for legal assistants, but some employers view it as a commitment to the paralegal profession. Many paralegals working in the area of capital defense have prior experience, knowledge, in addition to certification in the field.

Experience Requirements

The Federal Defender’s Office usually directly assigns paralegals and attorneys to indicted persons in capital punishment cases. Paralegals are required to locate witnesses, family members, and other personnel involved in the case. Additionally, they are required to put together records and other potential evidence that could be used in the case. Some paralegals must visit the crime scene in order to assist attorneys in any way that may be required of them. After looking through and analyzing comprehensive records and laws, they may be asked to write briefs on issues relating to the case. When the Federal Defenders Office hires paralegals to work on capital defense cases, it usually asks for candidates with three or more years of criminal investigation experience, in addition to great communication and writing skills. Although the office prefers those with paralegal training and certification, sometimes experience can be substituted for actual training.

Paralegals are valuable assets to capital defense teams, and attorneys frequently rely on them for finding relevant information for the case. If you are interested in the death penalty and cases relating to capital punishment, life as a paralegal can be a promising, exciting career path for you!


Guest Blogger:  Nancy Farrell is a freelance writer and blogger. She regularly contributes to the website Criminal Justice Degrees Guide which provides (1) resource information for those interested in careers in criminal justice as well as (2) a blog posting related issues, including child abuse, human rights, divorce, and crime related articles. 

 If you are interested in providing an article for publication here on the blog, please review our prior post that gives all the details – and feel free to email me for more information.

– Reba