If you are considering a career as a paralegal, don't dive right in. There's plenty of pros and cons to weigh and you should only make the plunge once you are absolutely sure that it is the right career for you. Let's take a look at what life is like for paralegal students and the professional paralegals.
While some paralegals obtained their positions because of their experience in the field of law, most have the required educational credentials. Aspiring paralegals are required to obtain either a paralegal degree or a paralegal certificate. Paralegal degrees are offered through 2-year programs or 4-year programs. The 4-year programs are typically referred to as “Paralegal Studies.” There are also intensive six-month and one-year paralegal certificate programs available for individuals who have already earned their bachelor’s degree.
Many employers prefer to hire graduates who have earned a paralegal certificate as it is the icing on the educational cake. Bachelor’s degrees help to round students' edges and teach them critical thinking skills while the paralegal certificate arms them with the specialization necessary to function in a unique law firm environment.
Many paralegal certificate and degree programs require the student to participate in an internship with a law firm or court. This is not only a resume builder; it also functions as a means for prospective paralegals to dabble in a specific aspect of the law. The experience might give them insight as to whether they'd like to continue working in that field of law or pursue a paralegal position in another legal niche.
Paralegals tend to be personable, detail oriented, and critical thinkers. Many paralegals use the position as a steppingstone to law school. Others have decided that working as a paralegal will be their permanent career. Paralegals perform diverse work tasks in support of either a single attorney or multiple attorneys. Much of the typical paralegal's work load requires contact with clients, courts, and opposing counsel, hence the need for interpersonal skills.
Paralegals also perform highly detailed billing for the firm's clients. Law firm billing is extremely complex, as attorneys bill in very small time increments. Add in the fact that each client typically pays a unique rate and that the firm's billing software is often very complex, and the billing process becomes quite a challenge. Paralegals must sweat the details and use critical thinking skills when they craft legal documents, legal correspondence, and perform legal research. All of these activities will affect the law firm's ability to serve clients and win legal battles.
If these responsibilities appeal to you and you don't mind reporting to a lawyer as your superior, then you should consider a career as a paralegal. The career becomes especially lucrative after you have a couple years of experience under your belt. If you work for a team of attorneys at a large law firm that specializes in multiple areas of the law, you'll be exposed to several different law niches. This equips you with the type of specialized knowledge and experience that will separate you from the pack when you inevitably search for a higher paying position.