Reimagine Your Career as a Paralegal

paralegal studies

 

Are court cases as fascinating to you as fictional television dramas are to others? Would you search the web for hours to find an elusive piece of information just to prove a point? Do you have a reputation as an organizational wiz? If you answered  yes, yes, and yes—and you’re looking for a new career—you can put your skills to work as a paralegal.

Paralegals assist lawyers by conducting legal research, drafting documents, organizing case files, and performing other administrative duties. They are the foot soldiers of the legal profession who pave the way for attorneys to practice law. The need for paralegals is on the rise because businesses and organizations of all sizes are attempting to reduce their expenses by handing out more routine legal processes to paralegals whose time is not quite as expensive as an attorney’s time is.

Best of all, a paralegal is one of the most accessible careers in the job market! Recent applicants to Kaplan University’s paralegal degree and certificate programs, for instance, have professional backgrounds that range from bus drivers and strawberry pickers to general managers and systems analysts. Choosing paralegal as your second career gives you more skills and experience to bring to the job, making you a more valuable employee.

What Paralegals Do

Paralegals help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings by performing any of the following duties:

  • Investigate the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
  • Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
  • Write reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals, and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions

Education You’ll Need

Paralegals can be trained on the job, but with competition for paralegal jobs heating up, those with formal training are in demand. Most paralegals have earned a two-year associate’s degree, but if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can earn a paralegal postbaccalaureate certificate in even less time. There are also bachelor’s degree programs available for paralegal studies, and you can attend programs at public, private, or online schools.

[Check out 12 College Scholarships for Adult Learners.]

Skills to Succeed

Paralegals need to be avid readers and researchers who can find, sort, and organize the materials that lawyers need to prepare documents and case files. Be prepared to spend many hours searching through law libraries and courthouse files. You should also be trained in using digital law-research databases and be proficient in many kinds of office software, including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation programs. Know how to write, multitask, and communicate with clients and other legal team members.

In the Workplace

The median annual salary for paralegals is $46,990, and the job growth is faster than average.* Most paralegals are employed by law offices, but other places of work include corporate legal departments, government agencies, finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and health care providers.

Paralegals typically work a 40-hour week, but overtime is not uncommon when deadlines are looming. Paralegals who work for smaller organizations perform a larger variety of duties, while those who work for larger firms specialize in a just a few activities, such as researching past cases or organizing evidence for hearings.

Specializations

Many lawyers specialize in particular areas of the law, and paralegals can do the same. If you already have and area of expertise from a previous career, that can make you a particularly attractive hire.

Here are some of the areas of specialization that might be of interest to you as you move forward in your paralegal career:

Alternative Dispute Resolution Entertainment Law International Law
Animal Law Environmental Law Litigation Paralegal
Aviation Law Estate Planning Nurse Paralegal
Bankruptcy Law Family Law Paralegal Specialist in Gov.
Business Law Freelance Paralegal Patent Law
Civil Litigation Immigration Law Personal Injury Law
Civil Rights Law Insurance Law Real Estate Law
Employment Law Intellectual Property Law Tort Law

Paralegals are sometimes called legal assistants, but while the terms have been used interchangeably for some time, there is now a trend toward differentiating them. ‘Paralegals’ refers to formally educated or certified employees, while ‘legal assistants’ refers to legal secretaries and paralegal assistants who perform less substantive roles.

There are very few barriers to becoming a paralegal, and it is a rewarding career for the right types of people. Whether you choose to earn a certificate or a degree, getting some experience in a law firm or legal department is also a good idea. Look for internships or volunteer opportunities while you study, and highlight any previous experience you bring to the table when you seek your first job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Experienced, formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.”

 

(*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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2 Comments

  1. Karen Dec 12, 2014 at 11:18 PM

    I got my Paralegal degree a few years ago but could never gets job without either knowing someone or having. 3-5 years experience which I didn’t have. And my college was no help. I love it it’s my passion but how can I even get my foot in the door???

    • Diane Thomas Dec 15, 2014 at 9:35 AM

      You are right, Karen, it helps to have an “in” to find a job in a competetive field. Graduates who find internships do well in getting hired. Look for interniships on internet job sites, but also approach companies using paralegals directly with your resume.

      LinkedIn is also an important resource for making industry connections. If you do not already have a profile, make one now and start connecting with people you know. Then search for your college’s college page which will allow you to look for other alumni by both location and industry. See if you can make some contacts with alumni who are in a position to help you, either by giving you advice, job leads, internship possibilities, or by looking over your resume for you.

      Also on LinkedIn, search for groups you can join that are relevant to paralegals. Just click on “interests,” then “groups,” then type paralegals into the search box. The results will contain connection to people who are paralegals, jobs in the paralegal field, and groups for paralegals.

      Here’s a link to a great article to help you as well: http://www.studentadvisor.com/pages/how-to-leverage-linkedin-to-get-a-job

      Good Luck, let us know if you are successful!