The prefix “para” comes from the Greek language, meaning “beside;” thus, paralegals work in law offices and the legal department of businesses, assisting and working alongside lawyers to complete various legal tasks. Much of this involves preparing contracts and other legal documents, attending to correspondence for clients and other firms or offices, and even working with clients. Paralegals are to a lawyer what a nurse is to a doctor - highly skilled in the same field, capable of accomplishing many of the same tasks, and there to help keep the boss from being overwhelmed by work. Some people find this a very satisfying field and position, but here as with every profession, there are two sides to the coin.
Training and Earnings for Paralegals
If the legal business calls to you, but years of law school and the bar exam don’t, then being a paralegal may be a great alternative. A bachelor’s degree in almost any field of study combined with paralegal certification or an associate’s degree in a legal field are generally sufficient to become a paralegal. Having experience in the legal field can qualify you for certification as well -- a much less daunting method to a legal career, with many of the same benefits.
Pay, however is not one of those. This is not to say that paralegals aren’t paid well; in fact, those with experience made over $65,000 in 2014, which is nothing to sneeze at. But the median lawyer’s salary is nearly double that.
Pro: Less Debt
The extra years of schooling may be worth it -- but becoming a paralegal entails much less debt, as it requires less years of expensive school and no loans for an office.
Con: Job Stability
On the other hand, a paralegal’s employment is based on a lawyer’s need, not the other way around. So while the lawyer can guarantee himself a job, he can’t always guarantee one for his paralegals.
Pro: More Job Opportunities
Luckily, this can be tempered by the fact that people may be more inclined to hire a paralegal than a lawyer, since their services are much less costly and often just as effective.
Opportunity and Workload for Paralegals
Other things to consider in the paralegal career are the freedoms it offers -- and withholds. There are many fields within the legal discipline, from real estate to criminal law, bankruptcy to family law. There’s a lot to learn in each field, which again may be both blessing and curse.
While it opens up the option to really enjoy what you’re doing (many paralegals do pro bono work, which is good for the community as well as the soul), depending on what you’re doing, there can be a lot of hats to wear. There will be a lot of files to keep up with and clients to keep track of, regardless, but if you went into law to help families sort out their differences and find yourself writing contracts to sell houses because that’s where you could find work, you aren’t going to feel as satisfied in your profession.
Additionally and unfortunately, paralegals have deadlines to meet just like lawyers, which means long hours and not always a lot of appreciation or recognition. Furthermore, there can be a lot of detective work involved, which means lots of traveling and research. For some people, that’s living the dream. It may not float everyone’s metaphorical boat, though, especially if you have a family and happen to like being at home at the same time every day and sleeping in your own bed every night.