You have always wanted work in the legal field. You could choose to stay in school and become an attorney, but there is the option of becoming a paralegal. The paralegal is the right hand of the attorney and in a small office may be the only administration support available; so you may wear many hats. The path to becoming a paralegal, while not as long as the attorney, can be quite lengthy. There is a lot of information available and many options. It is best to do a lot of research and get a good plan together.
The career starts with learning the paralegal job description. Mistakes will be made if you are not sure what you are really getting into. The legal secretaries and legal assistants on television are uber glamorized and like so many other television jobs, the work is not glamorous. It requires hard work and sometimes overtime. You are responsible to:
● Interview people who could possibly be experiencing the worst days of their life.
● Spend hours researching and writing
● Organize packets and court documents flawlessly
● Provide a variety of other administrative support
There are many other duties and characteristics that can be found on sites such as O*Net Online and My Next Move.org. They partner with the Department of Labor, and provide extensive information on the personality traits, KSAs, etc. recommended for the successful paralegal. If you do not want to sit and listen to people’s problems, you probably should not be a paralegal. The more knowledge you have the better a decision you can make.
Paralegal training requires long hours of legal research and writing. There is a long way and a longer way to get certified. There are great resources available that outline the education processes that can give you some idea about how long it does take to become a paralegal.
You may not need to attend school at all if you work for the right firm that will train you. Be sure that the school you choose is not only accredited, but that the program is ABA approved. This will increase your employability dramatically.
You can get your AAS degree or a certificate and complete on the job training in the office. There are online programs that are available for certificates or AAS degrees. Online programs may not be well suited to fulfill the BS requirements. There are programs for otherwise qualified professionals who would like to transfer to the field, but not start their education from scratch.
There is the option of staying in school long enough to obtain that BS degree. Even after getting the degree there is still a training process and an industry certification to finish. There is no quick path to becoming a paralegal. The work of the paralegal is very important to the attorney and to the client, there is no room for error.
The salary for the Paralegal averages $47,000.00 per year. With obvious differences in location, type of office and education/experience. There are positions with various government agencies such as the IRS and with the military that pay a generous salary and benefits. If you are open to relocating you can use the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census information to determine where your pay adjusted for cost of living will provide the most comfortable lifestyle.
Success is possible, but as experience will teach, you cannot easily jump into a career and be assured of success. Research will help you determine which career is best for you. There is a long road to a rewarding career as a paralegal.