To become a paralegal is to become many things. An interviewer, a gopher, a secretary, and a courtroom assistant. There are many aspects of the paralegal profession that may interest you, but here we’d like to present 20 great reasons to become a paralegal.
If you decide to work as a paralegal, you’re in luck! Demand for paralegals is growing. Unlike many professions with similar education requirements, the industry growth for paralegals looks stable over the next eight years. WIth relatively short education and certification tracks, you can quickly take advantage of the opportunities being a paralegal provides.
A new paralegal has some control over their opportunities, as learning some more advanced computer and database management skills can make you stand out among the crowd of applicants.
The demand is even better in urban centers, so if you’re looking to live or relocate to a metropolitan area, your job prospects will improve considerably.
We’re not talking about your specific job at a specific firm, but security of the market in general. Once you’ve proven yourself to be a capable and dependable paralegal, you’ll be invaluable both in your current role and in any position you decide to take in the future.
Paralegals make it so lawyers can function, but law firms depend on quality, skillful, and organized paralegals to make their important work flow smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. A good paralegal more than makes up for his or her salary through that efficiency of process.
Develop your processes, learn new skills that can be applied to your field as a paralegal, and make sure that your efforts are felt and you will have all the all of the job security you could want.
Many careers have significant barriers to entry. Four years of school with mountains of debt, certifications and licenses for each step and skill, and significant experience measured in years needed to establish yourself and make a reasonable salary.
To be a paralegal is different. It generally requires a two-year educational program and a single certification to get started. This means paralegals have a shorter runway and quicker launch time compared to other occupations in its range.
With less debt and fewer years sitting idle, waiting to make a salary, there is less opportunity cost. A paralegal can get a jump on his or her peers and start establishing their career and earning raises.
Salary is a big consideration in any profession, paralegals included.
The paralegal profession has a more substantial starting salary compared to other two-year degree fields, and can increase greatly with just a few years experience if you’ve focused on your skills and networking.
You can make the most out of your salary by moving to a larger city, as well as positioning yourself for hire at larger and more lucrative legal firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics places the median wage of a paralegal at roughly $50,000, which is almost the average total household income in the US. This places an average paralegal earner in a good pay bracket. High earners can earn upwards of $80,000 annually, which would really make the cost vs. income ratio of a paralegal degree shine!
Testing the Waters
You might think you’d like to be a lawyer but you understand that attending a pre-law and law school track is a significant obligation, not to mention the time and financial costs. It’s hard to take on such a burden without being sure you’d even enjoy or appreciate the legal field.
Taking a two year detour to train and work as a paralegal is a much smaller commitment, with good dividends – as we’ve discussed above.
Testing the waters of the legal field by working as a paralegal will give you all of the insight you need into the job a lawyer performs. You’ll know in short order whether or not the career will suit you. If not, you’ve saved four to six years of schooling and hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense for a job that you’d hate.
Not only that, training and working as a paralegal will give you insights into the field of law that will help you with your undergraduate degree and in law school should you decide to pursue it. Either way, to become a paralegal is a valuable path to tread.
Maybe you’d still be content as a paralegal, or maybe you’d apply your efforts toward another field that’s a better fit. Either way, you’re ahead of the game.
You may think that all paralegal jobs are the same, but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. Just like any field, there is a limitless variety of law firms, district offices, NGOs, nonprofit organizations, and corporations to choose from. Each will have its own personality and office culture, each will have unique foci and clients, and each will have its own set of goals and rewards.
You could work in environmental law and try to save a portion of the planet. You could work in IP law and help people create, defend, and utilize patents effectively. You could help a nonprofit that protects civil liberties or you could help a DA process criminal prosecution and support innocent victims.
As you see, to become a paralegal is to have more options than you might know what to do with. If you like to have flexibility in your employment, or even if you have your heart set on a certain industry or field, a paralegal degree can help you get there.
Variety is the spice of life, so they say.
The paralegal profession offers tons of variety day-to-day and week-to-week. In a single day, you’ll find yourself doing research, meeting a client, and in the courtroom with the legal team.
On a larger time frame, you’ll have weeks where everybody hunkers down on one enormous case and weeks where you’re balancing multiple clients like spinning plates, hoping none fall.
From behind a desk to behind the wheel heading to a client’s house to pick up paperwork, or from a boardroom where you’re taking notes to the courtroom where you’re giving them, there will be a variety of settings you’ll find yourself in as a paralegal.
Deciding to become a paralegal will put you into the courtroom from time to time. Supporting the acting lawyers is crucial, and often you will be tasked to manage paperwork and other communications real-time during proceedings.
This means that you may, on occasion, be instrumental in some important aspect of the case, or even have a pivotal role in influencing the outcome of the case in question.
Some paralegals discuss these shining moments as the ones they remember the most keenly as time passes. They relish those few proud moments as ones that defined their career.
Courtroom experience may be regular, but collecting those momentary gems can be worth any struggle, any late nights on rush cases, and any effort you’ve put into being the best paralegal you can be.
High Paced Work
If you love a fast-paced environment, you might want to become a paralegal.
Paralegals often don’t have the luxury of time. The trial is coming up, or you’re counting down the days of a statute of limitations, and the work needs to get done. Now.
These rush jobs aren’t necessarily standard fare, but you’ll be no stranger to them. Slow days will be almost unheard of, especially when you’re handling a stack of cases. Time will tick by faster than you think, deadlines will find you before you find them.
A paralegal needs to act like a well-oiled machine to keep up, to support the lawyers and clients, and to make sure everything is in order for court.
If you’re the type who loves the rush of work, the type who cheerfully proclaims that it “makes the day go by faster,” you might love paralegal work. There’s no other work like it for the pace and reward of doing something important.
Paralegal work can be challenging at times.
You’ll often be handling multiple cases with heavy workloads, helping an unusually needy client, or just plain stuck on a bit of research when trying to sort out a legal snarl.
Heavy workloads will come and go, but they’ll be your companion more often than you might think. A quality lawyer or firm will have a significant number of clients and, depending on the field you choose to work in, some of the cases you’ll be involved in will take a team to sort through the documentation and legal precedents surrounding the case. You may have to act as a computer, sorting and cross-referencing data. You may have to act as a liaison to the client and keep them in constant communication regarding the status of the process. You may even have to keep the peace within the office as pressure mounts and deadlines loom. In other words, certain cases will bring heavy challenges that you might be called on to tackle.
On the other side of the coin, some clients are more bothersome than others. It’s just the nature of the business. It might be the elderly woman trying to make sense of a complicated will. She’ll call you four times a day because she’s worried, her children are fighting over the will, and she’s a little lonely. A large conglomerate may have chosen your firm to represent them and they’ve tasked one lone guy to interact with your team. He’s trying to make a name for himself and move up the ladder, and he’ll be breathing down your neck and second-guessing you at every turn so that he can shine. One of the hats you may wear as a paralegal is to interact with these clients and make them feel secure and involved. That may be the most important challenge of all.
Finally, sometimes research comes up with conflicting information. Opposite sets of precedent, regulations that are vague or flat-out contradict each other, or absolute mountains of court paperwork to sift through and find a needle in a haystack. This sort of puzzle will come up occasionally, and it takes the love of the solution to make it through.
Become a paralegal, or consider it, If you take pride in solving a challenge.
Love of Research
In addition to having a love for tackling a challenge, a paralegal really needs to love research. One should, at the very least, have a knack for it.
It’s mentioned just above, but research is one of the primary functions of a paralegal. Researching old court cases, finding and reviewing legal precedent, and combing through reams of judges’ notes for support on your side of the case is standard fare.
Computers have come a long way in helping paralegals find what they’re looking for. As more and more court records and laws are digitized and indexed for search, a paralegal with a good hand at database queries and strong “Google-fu” can be extremely efficient at producing usable data and references to make the lawyers’ jobs easier.
The computer, however, does not replace the need for old-school research. Sometimes, you’ll be referencing old documents or casework that never made it into a database and, at those times, you’ll be thankful you applied your love of research to become a paralegal.
Don’t be fooled: paralegal work can, at times, be boring or repetitive. There will be times when you’re doing rote work, filing, and shuffling papers from one side of your desk to the other.
Luckily, the work also comes with some very interesting upsides. You’ll get to see the inner workings of a law firm or some other legal group, you’ll get to see the nitty-gritty of the court system, and you’ll get to see the interesting, gruesome, and titillating tales that come through it.
The inside of a law office can draw some unique characters. Law is a specialist’s field, stuffed with intelligent people. That sort of environment can attract some large personalities, particular quirks, and – sometimes – vivid caricatures of people. The stories you bring home of judges, lawyers, and fellow paralegals will keep your friends and family entertained often.
Then there’s the court system. To the average person on the outside, it’s a dark place of fines, fees, and repercussions, filled with archaic symbolism and ritual. To the insider, it’s can either be a boring workspace or a place of intrigue, where deals are struck behind doors, and pleas are negotiated over a sandwich platter or the at the vending machine. If you know where to look, there’s a rich tapestry of courtroom drama behind many doors.
Last but not least are the interesting tales you’ll find when paying attention to court cases. Plaintiffs and defendants both will bring no end of gossip and crazy stories into your life. Neighbors feuding over a tree that adjoins their properties, landlords stealing tenants’ deliveries, messy divorce settlements, and crazy ex-partners will add spice to many a dinner party.
Just make sure to leave out any names and dates to avoid problems!
Building Communication Skills
We’ve touched on this one, but communication skills are one of the key skills a paralegal has to hone. You’ll be communicating by email, letter, memo, phone, and in person. You need to be clear in your message and concise in your delivery. Though you will need to modify your approach for different recipients to keep them happy and the wheels moving on this thing.
You’ll often be working in groups with other paralegals. Good communication is paramount for efficiency in this scenario. Avoiding overlaps in research and outreach, sharing findings and sticking points, and helping to tie everything into a neat package for the lawyers are all goals in communication with your peers. Being an effective communicator can serve as an example to your teammates who may struggle with it, propelling the whole team forward that much faster.
Communicating with lawyers will be a different animal entirely. They’ll usually want the distilled information delivered in digestible segments. Though it varies based on the individual and the team, the lawyer is often big-picture until he or she needs the minutiae for courtroom purposes, so bringing sharp notes and an ability to field and understand questions as they’re tossed at you is a must.
This is all without mentioning client interaction, which will often have you in a receptive seeking role. Practice active listening and open-ended questions to get the information you need to be successful.
To become a paralegal is to become a phenomenal communicator. Embrace it and work on it.
Building People Skills
Just as you’ll need to communicate effectively with the people around you, you will also need to utilize them to successfully complete your tasks and accomplish your role as a paralegal.
Studying leadership and interaction is a great first step into honing your people skills. An old book but still as relevant today as it was the day it was written is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Contrary to the sound of the title, it is not a book on manipulation. It’s a book on how to relate to people and operate effectively and honestly within the realm of the social animal that is the human being.
Further, as mentioned above, developing your attentive listening skills is important during researching and interviewing clients. Making a client or another interviewee feel like you’re listening and engaged will help you gain more information and may make the difference between success and failure in a case.
These people skills can also serve you very well when it’s time for a raise, a promotion, or a move to a new firm. Great people skills can mean a significant pay increase over your peers with similar qualifications, and can help you in your quest for job security and longevity in your career.
Opportunities to Relocate
Paralegals are needed nearly everywhere. Anywhere you find a lawyer, you’ll find a paralegal assisting them. As a rule, the more lawyers, the more opportunities there are for paralegals to find lucrative work. Every major city in the US, especially New York City and Washington, D.C., has need of paralegals and you can make the move that is right for you.
The best part is that you can use this to your advantage if you’re not tied down too tightly. Try out NYC for a couple of years, then look into LA or Houston if the mood strikes.
Though there are a couple of legal hotbeds, paralegals are one of the more transferable professionals. Unlike lawyers, you don’t need to worry about making partner (or staying on afterward), nor do you have to worry about starting from scratch with a new client base. All of that is taken care of by the firm, you just have to show them that you’re the best candidate for the position!
With the multitude of opportunities available to paralegals, there is some upward mobility baked right into the career.
As mentioned previously, there is demand for skilled paralegals. Coupled with experience and professional development, there is room for career growth.
In a large firm, you may set your sights on a leadership or department head position. In a small office, you may prove your value and earn raises. Or, as with so many careers these days, your trajectory will most likely take you through multiple offices and firms, earning you experience and pay raises along the way.
As a paralegal, even a lateral move can earn you new skills and experience that you can shop around at a later date. With an eye on skill development and producing value to your employer, you can raise your earning potential right up into the top percentile of earners.
There’s no denying it – professionals in the legal field hold a certain prestige with their peers in other fields, and among friends, family, and acquaintances.
While it may not carry as much weight as being a practicing lawyer, paralegals nonetheless have an active and crucial role in the legal field and serving justice within the bounds of the courtroom.
You’ll carry those tales of the courtroom with you, as well as tales of the big, recognized cases you’ve worked on. You’ll be able to entertain those around you with courtroom drama and faux pas from opposing councils. Being a part of the larger legal system still brings with it that prestige and honor of working to keep society functioning and civilization intact.
Like any career, the paralegal field can become rote and tiresome if you let it.
Unlike other careers, it’s difficult to completely settle into a rut because laws, regulations, precedent, and judicial interpretation are always in flux. As society changes, so do their ideals and the laws put in place to codify them.
The profession of paralegal offers lifelong learning. As mentioned, laws change like the shifting wind. But so, too, does technology, research capability, and communication channels.
Keeping abreast of new technologies in the fields of law enforcement, forensic analysis, and data forensics are important to understand what type of research you should be doing, what laboratories you’ll be working (and schmoozing) with, and how these technologies impact your clients and their opponents. To be part of an effective legal support team, you must keep yourself educated as changes come to these fields.
Research capabilities keep shifting toward computer and database-driven solutions, and staying on top of database usage and querying will keep you relevant as time goes on. If you’re particularly good in this realm, you might even be able to position yourself as a consultant as a future job prospect.
As communication channels evolve, you may be tasked to pay attention to what would work best for your team as they continue to move from their desk to their mobile device. Group chats like slack are popular now for technology and software teams, but have you looked into utilizing them to streamline your own team’s communications? How about program management software? Have you studied how basecamp might make your life easier?
There are always things to learn, and many fields may have a direct application to your own.
The last two reasons for being a paralegal will be bigger-picture. The first is helping others.
Lawyers get a bad rap for being sleazy or underhanded. Even evil at times. The paralegal doesn’t get much of this flak, but they might have some guilt by association.
But you know that you chose your firm or department carefully and that you can actually make a difference. Help defend the innocent, save wildlife that can’t speak for itself, or protect those in our society who cannot protect themselves.
Just as paralegals have strong influence in the outcomes of their cases, they also have the ability to process evidence and do research to keep an innocent human out of jail.
Just as paralegals have a role in the legal environment, a paralegal can work in environmental law and be key in holding accountable those who would destroy humanity’s joint heritage – nature.
Just as paralegals communicate details and documents, so, too can they speak for an elderly man who isn’t receiving the basic care that any one of us deserves
A paralegal is a background actor more often than not. But there is no painting without the canvas.
Serving a Greater Good
Again, we’ve touched on it briefly, but working within the rule of law – discovering it, analyzing it, and applying it – is an important work within the fabric of society.
Anyone can get lost in their own space, especially with the mundanity and accidental rituals of daily life, daily work, and daily details.
Remember that a paralegal takes the time to comb through what the legal system has produced as codified rules for the functioning of government and society. They distill the essence of what it says and what it means, using details and examples as explanation. They dig up the truth and wrap it in court transcripts for consumption.
The paralegal takes their findings to the lawyer, who can use them to influence the outcomes in people’s lives, their businesses, and the function of government even at a basic level.
As a paralegal, you serve your family, your office, and your client. But you also serve the “greater good.” You are the grease that keeps the underlying machinery of modern life functioning.
That’s a great reason to become a paralegal.