For those interested in legal work but don’t want to commit to the long, gullying process of becoming a lawyer, look no further. Becoming a paralegal can take as little as two years, or if you’re ambitious less. Here is everything you need to know before pursuing your future career as a paralegal.
What Is A Paralegal
A paralegal is a member of the law community which works directly with an attorney. They are not allowed to give legal advice or work with clients independently.
Types of Employment
For their specific job, that depends on where you are employed. Paralegals can work for government agencies, corporate offices, or private firms. Some are even known to freelancer- working as an independent contractor. Within each of these sector the work load varies.
Responsibility at Each Level
At a government agency or corporate office, a paralegal might be in charge of a small part of a case and then move on; while, at a private firm they could be part of the entire trial. Freelancers, on the other hand have the option of both. Another major factor for the job depends on which type of law you specialize in.
Different Kinds Of Paralegals
Before planning to become a paralegal, understanding the different career options will give you a good idea of where you fit and what to pursue. Here is a list of a handful of possible paths:
Real Estate Paralegal
Working in real estate your main cases will have to do with zoning disputes, foreclosures, boundary issues, and purchases. With this, you will help clients maintain communication between parties, file documentation, and coordinate deadlines.
Unlike most other related jobs, working in the corporate world, you will not be directly in contact with clients. Instead your main responsibility involves communicating with corporation as a whole.
With this job having a keen eye for details is essential. Tasks include viewing contracts, analyzing business actions, and understanding corporate regulations. The majority of the work will be keeping corporations accountable.
Labor and Employment Paralegal
This paralegal specialty concentrates on workplace safety. Specific tasks involve communicating with clients, filing complaint appeals, and helping with trial preparation. Here, great communication skills, organization skill and understanding government employment agencies is essential. Common cases will involve sexual harassment, union disputes, firing issues, and discrimination.
In family law, paralegals will spend large amounts of time talking with clients. It is a fast pace department and you must have excellent people skills, be able to multitask and meet deadlines. Responsibilities include drafting pleadings, coordinating hearings and conducting research.
Estate and Probate Planning
Both large and small firms deal with probate planning. In this field, workers will be dealing with either people who have lost someone or are people close to death. Duties include fixing deeds, wills, trusts, and probate pleadings. People here should be able to work well with older people and be excellent with numbers.
What’s The Difference Between a Legal Secretary and a Paralegal?
Confusing the role of legal secretary and paralegal is a common mistake. Both jobs assist attorneys- making phone calls, planning meetings, filing paper work- but as a paralegal you will work at a higher caliber.
What Makes Them Different?
Many claim the title of paralegal, but what truly defines one a law degree. A secretary usually has little knowledge of legal terminology, doctrines, regulations, and are less educated. Their job roles don’t go past administrative duties, such as phone calls and paper work.
While a paralegal is capable of doing all of these jobs and more. With their education, they can draft motions, attend case hearings and do some entry level lawyer work. Because of this, they also have a higher pay.
How To Become A Paralegal
Types of Degree and Quality
When searching for schools, your first step should be to make sure the program is accredited. Most firms will not hire a candidate without an accredited degree. The American Bar Association is a great resource for this as they are well reputable. After finding one, the next step is deciding which type of degree best fits your situation: associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.
Benefits of Getting an Associate’s Degree
An associate’s degree only takes up to two years. With this level of education applicants can apply to most entry level paralegal job or opt for a legal secretary position.
Benefits of Getting a Bachelor’s Degree
With a bachelor, it will take an average of four years but it will be a lot easier to get a job. With this, most job options will be available, even some specialized ones. With this, you can work to concentrate in a higher paying legal niche- like becoming a corporation or government paralegal.
Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree
After completing a bachelor’s degree, students have the option to aim for a masters. This is not necessary but it can open up careers throughout the field. With a masters, you can also look to teach paralegal studies or even aspire to open your open firm.
Getting more Experience Though Internships or Volunteering
After receiving an accredited degree, get an internship! If not an internship, volunteering at a local non-profit or getting on-the-job-training is great. Most firms look for candidates with at least a year in legal work.
Why get a Certification and What Resources Should I Use?
Along with an education, apply to get paralegal certification is a huge bonus. Also if you’re looking for a more specialized paralegal job will give you great experience. The Paralegal Association (NALA) is a valuable resource for this- their site is posted below.
Other Routes Without an Education
If the thought of a 2-4-year education seems impossible, consider working as a receptionist and moving your way up. Doing this will give you a solid picture of how things run and if its somewhere you can see yourself in the future.
Working in Law is Defined by Hard Work
The legal world is defined by laborious hours, high pressure, and a strong personality. When it comes to education or personality, the later wins. Most people can receive a degree, few can survive the legal world. If you are a proven self-educated and determined individual, the chance of securing work will skyrocket. Character is key but don’t forget having a degree definitely will definitely give you a head start.
Job Description / Responsibilities
The duties of Paralegals are every changing. One day they will be attending a trial with an attorney and the next they will be answering phone calls to set meetings. Sometimes they will be involved in handling investigation paper work the next divorce paperwork. No one day is the same, but for those looking to get a picture, here’s a list of the main tasks:
The paralegal won’t initiate the first interview but as the attorney gets busy, they will have to come in. When interviewing, the core objective is gathering information to support a case. After interviewing, the paralegal will prepare a written report and give it to their boss. In law, concrete information is extremely valuable and doing so can determine the fate of a case.
Similar to interviewing, gathering research helps the attorney act more effectively during the case. This involves collecting facts, identifying relevant laws, and reviewing legal articles. After information is collected the paralegal writes a summary and then assists the attorney in making their presentation.
Another common role is administrative responsibilities: taking phone calls, sorting papers and organizing files. Much of the work talking on the phone involves calling other attorneys, people in the case, scheduling meetings and interviews.
No matter what type of law you enter, these roles will should be expected. Overall if you have an organized mind and can multitask you will do much better in this setting.
While attending a university, the typical course work will be in research methods, case organization, court proceedings and attorney procedures. Common classes include:
- Criminal Law: This course covers topics in substantive criminal law. Focusing on basic theory and principles of justification.
- Investigation and Discovery Techniques: This course will help students develop understand the science of criminal investigation. Topics are directed to teaching methods of examining factual and legal cases.
- Legal Terminology: Legal terminology covers the basics of the language used in the legal system. This is vital for understanding contract, legal forms and the systems in law.
- Business Law: Business law covers topics in legal institutions and law relating to business. This class will also go through business ethics and social impact.
- Real Estate Law: This course shines light on how law effects everyday real estate procedures. It also walks you through practice legal scenarios in the real estate world.
- And more: Depending on the degree, some class will dive into more depth of these topics.
Paralegal are criminal justice, political sciences and human services. With these, students learn how to analyze legal trends and of to positively impact the future of law
Benefits of Getting a Certification
During a certification programs, students will be taught at a basic level, learning niche skills. The programs usually take a year to complete. Subjects cover terminology, standard law, and researching. Some programs even require you to take college course.
The working environment of a paralegal is similar to that of a lawyer or any law work. It is mostly done in temperature controlled rooms- libraries, offices, and courtrooms. Much of their time is spent inside but occasionally they will go out for investigations and interviews.
The common work day is 8 hours Monday through Friday, starting at 9 am and ending at 5 pm. Most put in 40 hours a week but with urgent deadlines and important cases, employees will overtime.
As an entry-level employee, your day will be strictly planned but as you become more professional, firms will let you have more control. For professional paralegals, attorneys will let them prioritize their entire day.
What To Expect On The Job?
Talking with Clients
Because of the many different law niches, the average paralegal day largely depends on the specialty. As a litigation, family or bankruptcy paralegal, you will most likely be talking with client on a normal basis. Gaining information to support cases.
Writing Legal Documents
For many of the rest- real estate, immigration, corporation- drafting legal documents is a common job. Many of the writing involves complaints, petitions and appeals.
For example, a real estate paralegal might be asked to prepare a mortgage or lease for a home. Or an immigration paralegal may be asked to review legal forms for immigrants. Whatever the paralegal scenario, writing legal documents is ubiquitous.
Advice from an Expert
Sophie Walton has been a paralegal for the past 20+ years and she has a lot of experience. She has worked in bankruptcy, family law, probate law, real estate, and general litigations. Her advice: “find an education program. The American Bar Association has a directory of ABA-approved paralegal education programs. It is essential that your program is ABA-approved or you may find your employment opportunities are limited”.
Join A Paralegal Association
She also explains that if you’re interested, join a local paralegal association. Through one people can connect to a valuable career resource and connect to supporting members. Sophie goes on to say her most rewarding part of the job is “that I can help people during the difficult situations that arise in their lives”.
For those considering entering the legal world, statistics are in your favor! The CNN has announced that becoming a paralegal is one of the top 20 best careers. CNN also rates its growth at 18% from 2010-2020! To add to this the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claim even higher growth rates at 28% from 2008 to 2018. The outlook is positive and the numbers are high.
Increase in pay, duties and prestige
Along with outlook other paralegal potential is rising pay, and increase in prestige. As more and more responsibilities are being asked of them, so too is the medium average wage increasing. And with this people in the law community are more than ever respecting their work.
Let it be known, the overall outlook depends on the economy’s health. If it dips, then so will the hiring of legal workers, but all in all, it is a solid career with a bright future.
Here is a great list of organization and job resources to check out!
The Paralegal Association: NALA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and connecting with paralegals. With over 18,000 members they are a leading team in the development of this career. https://www.nala.org/
National Federation of Paralegal Associations: The NFPA was the first paralegal association, established in 1974. It is considered a global presence with 50 associations and over 9,000 members. The work on professional development, paralegal certifications, and post various events. http://www.paralegals.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1
American Bar Association: The ABA, primarily created to provide lawyers with resources, also assists paralegals. As a member, you will receive current news regarding law and career advice. http://www.americanbar.org/aba.html
National Paralegal Association: The NPA was created to assist individuals, law firms, corporate legal departments, independent paralegals, paralegal training schools and colleges. They are an international organization that date back to 1982. http://www.nationalparalegal.org/
Lawyers USA: This site is a great job forum that focuses on opportunities in the legal community. They also offer legal services and run articles in different states. http://lawyersusaonline.com/
Law Jobs: Another job hunting site, law jobs researches positions by company, location, and job title. The site includes over 24,000 active seekers and 1.4 million passive ones. http://lawjobs.com/
Jobs.net: This site provides resources throughout the industry. Allowing users to contact business across the states by searching through city or state. http://paralegal.jobs.net/
Job Hill: This sites allows users to upload their resume and email-blast potential companies. It also has resources for career advice and job fairs. http://www.paralegaljobs.org/