What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Paralegal (2022)

What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Paralegal (1)

Choosing your profession can feel like one of the most crucial decisions you will make. It’s understandable to second-guess yourself. Shows like Law and Order, How to Get Away with Murder or Better Call Saul may have piqued your interest in the legal realm, but is that interest enough to fuel a career?

Of all the potential courtroom jobs out there, a paralegal career is one of the fastest tracks you can take to your first day on the job. But the time it takes to gain the proper knowledge and training is still an investment. You want to be sure that it’s worth your time.

Take a moment to learn some of the gritty details of working as a paralegal—from the mouths of paralegals and the lawyers who hire them. Use this expert insight to help you make an informed decision.

But first, let’s cover the basics…

What does a paralegal do?

You’ve likely done some research on your own, but it’s always beneficial to have all of your information in one place. What does a paralegal do? Basically, they help their attorneys keep things organized and running smoothly by doing important legal legwork.

Those duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can include assisting attorneys during trials, organizing case files, preparing trial notes, performing legal research, preparing legal briefs and sometimes conducting client and witness interviews.1

“Most paralegal jobs require paralegals to work on contracts, real estate, civil lawsuits and other legal needs,” says Kirk Olson, a lawyer and instructor at Rasmussen University. “One case may require multiple areas of law. For instance, a divorce often requires a paralegal to obtain and review real estate, pension, insurance, business and estate planning documents, not just child custody studies.”

(Video) New Paralegal Tips: What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Paralegal

Paralegals are generally detail oriented, organized and efficient. Because duties can vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorneys, they must also be adaptable.

How to become a paralegal

One of the most common concerns for anyone looking into starting in this field is the amount of education needed—as well as how long it takes to become a paralegal. The path to becoming a paralegal can look very different from one person to the next.

But the BLS states that the most common educational path that leads to work as a paralegal is an Associate’s degree, which can be completed in as a few as 18 months.1,2 That said, if you’ve already earned a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you’ll need on the job without requiring more years of schooling—in fact, this Certificate program can be completed in as few as 8 months.2

What to expect from the Paralegal Certificate program

This program is designed to supplement education from a different field. If you already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any area, a Paralegal Certificate program can give you the legal basics a paralegal needs to know while building upon the foundation of general education courses you’ve already completed.

In this kind of paralegal program, you’ll take courses like Introduction to Legal Research, Legal Writing and Law Office Management. Ethical communication, interdisciplinary awareness and emerging technology are important objectives of this program.

What to expect from a Paralegal Associate’s degree program

A Paralegal Associate’s degree program will give you an essential basis for work as a paralegal (as well as other careers) with foundational classes in English composition, math and the humanities. But the bulk of your studies will focus on skill and knowledge areas specific to the legal world and the paralegal duties within it.

Courses like Torts, Contracts and Family Law zoom in on complex subjects in the legal realm, while other courses such as Computer Applications and Business Systems Concepts, Legal Writing and Legal Research help you build the critical skill sets paralegals need.

A Paralegal degree will provide you with the skills needed to succeed in the field, but there will be a host of things you won’t learn until you’re on the job. For some additional insights, we asked paralegal professionals to share the things they wish they’d known before starting their careers.

(Video) How did I become A Paralegal? + Pros\Cons (HD) 1080p

What is a paralegal career like?

“You will work hard and long hours, but it's worth it,” says paralegal and Rasmussen University Justice Studies instructor Julia Gordon. Gordon explains that paralegals carry a lot of weight on their shoulders and every detail matters.

“There is no room for error in tracking deadlines and working with court scheduling,” says Kevin Queenan of The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. “Mentoring legal assistants, I hear the same issue every time: I did not know you meant that detail oriented!” Queenan emphasizes that miniscule mistakes can have big consequences in the legal world. Having a bad day won’t cut it as an excuse if your mistake costs the firm a case, or worse, accusations of malpractice.

Yet, Queenan points out, people with the right personality can flourish in this position. Paralegals can take jobs with varied daily tasks and experiences if that is what they are looking for. “In a general civil practice ... the legal assistant may be answering discovery [requests] one day and driving out to meet a new client the next day.”

“For those who like more structure or repetition, there are law practices involving cookie-cutter lawsuits and issues. I talked to a legal assistant yesterday, and her last position involved filing 1,000 credit card lawsuits per month,” Queenan explains.

“Don't go into the job with rose-colored glasses,” Gordon says. You might picture working in an office full of driven individuals who want to help their clients fix injustices. But unfortunately, it isn’t always like that.

“Not all attorneys are nice, and not all attorneys are ethical,” Gordon says. “Be aware of your ethical rules and guidelines and never compromise your integrity. Nothing is worth losing your self-respect over. You have your clients’ lives in your hands. Treat the position with the highest reverence.”

What is the average paralegal salary?

While not every aspect of a paralegal’s work is considered glamorous, that’s really no different from most jobs. After all, there’s a reason you get paid to work. But is that pay enough to support you and your responsibilities? That’s up to you to decide.

The median annual paralegal salary in 2021 was $56,230, according to the BLS.2 That’s $10,470 more than the national average of $45,760 for all occupations.2 This is pretty encouraging for a job that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or hazardous working conditions.

(Video) Do You Want To Be A Paralegal?

Which paralegal skills matter most?

In this legal career, certain personalities and particular skill sets are better poised for success than others. If you are considering work as a paralegal, make sure you fit the bill by the time you apply.

“An effective [paralegal] must be computer savvy,” Queenan says. She adds that good legal assistants don’t overreact under pressure, are highly organized and care about the small details.

“Being kind and helpful is a good start,” Olson says. But Olson emphasizes that helpfulness won’t land you the job. “Lawyers hire paralegals because a good paralegal will find flaws in documents and assist with billing and other detailed functions that keep a law office working. A good paralegal is a ‘deadline cop’ who keeps the law firm on track.”

Olson says paralegals are expected to catch errors made by others and remind everyone of important dates. “Finding and warning of a deadline that others missed may prevent a loss of a client’s case and may save a $10,000 deductible in a lawyer’s malpractice claim,” Olson adds.

All that detail checking includes spelling and grammar. Olson says paralegals correct citation mistakes, grammar errors and other inaccuracies. Fine-tuning your writing and editing abilities is vital for success as a paralegal—that, as well as technical proficiency.

“A person considering becoming a legal assistant should take the highest level of available training on Word, WordPerfect and Westlaw,” Queenan says. “A technologically proficient [paralegal] will wow their lawyers more often and command a higher salary and raises.”

How to stand out as a paralegal

If you are mentally checking off some of those skill boxes—that’s a great sign. While detail-oriented professionals with strong writing and computer skills are important in this profession, there are ways to stand out even more.

Queenan recommends seeking training in client interactions, etiquette and communication skills since presenting a professional image to clients is incredibly important. Pay close attention to verbal slip-ups—no one wants to hear their legal help sounding careless. You want to make sure you are representing yourself, your clients and, ultimately, your practice as best as you can. This includes being able to communicate in a professional manner.

(Video) Tips I Would Give To My Younger Paralegal Self // What Nobody Tells You In Paralegal School

Additionally, Queenan suggests learning more about research materials on the internet. “We are suing a major manufacturer, and my legal assistant found several articles that were helpful to our lack of warning claims. The information was free!”

Olson suggests asking for examples of finished case files when you take work as a paralegal to see samples of what completed and professional work looks like for that firm. “And be assertive. If something does not look right, insist that it be explained or fixed.”

Are you cut out to become a paralegal?

Paralegals play an integral role in a firm’s success. Every document filed, every interview conducted and every ounce of collected research matters.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to work in the exciting legal world you’re used to seeing on TV, the paralegal profession may be the perfect career choice for you. Not only can it help you pay the bills, but it will challenge you intellectually and provide you with valuable professional experience to reach your long-term career goals.

These expert insights should answer many of your lingering questions about becoming a paralegal. If you're thinking this is the career for you, take a closer look at the paralegal programs that can help you get there. The Rasmussen UniversityParalegal Certificate and Associate’s Degree page can explain more of how to get your legal career underway!

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June, 2022] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Time to completion is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022. Expert insight remains from original version.

(Video) Is It Worth It To Become A Paralegal

FAQs

What kind of personality do you need to be a paralegal? ›

Personality Traits Of Successful Paralegals. Paralegals are a hardworking and dedicated bunch—they are organized, independent, fairly introverted, and creative in a way that most people never expect. They research, synthesize, document, and interpret facts to form coherent stories for their clients to use in court.

What are three important qualities that paralegals need? ›

An indispensable paralegal has an ability to multitask, a strong attention to detail, a willingness to learn, an expertise in organization, and psychic abilities.
  • Ability to multitask. ...
  • Strong attention to detail. ...
  • Willingness to learn. ...
  • Expertise in organization. ...
  • Psychic abilities.
21 Jan 2021

Why do I want to be a paralegal? ›

Paralegal work can not only help confirm that law is the right career path for you; it also gives you a chance to hone those vital, sought-after skills for a successful career in law that are difficult to practise elsewhere – commercial awareness and client-relationship skills, for instance.

What strengths should a paralegal have? ›

Skills
  • excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • the ability to manage multiple tasks or caseloads.
  • good attention to detail to be able to carefully analyse files and data.
  • legal research skills and the desire to develop your understanding of the law.

What do you say in a paralegal interview? ›

7 Paralegal Interview Questions You Need to Know
  1. Why did you pursue a career as a paralegal? ...
  2. What work experience do you have? ...
  3. How are your legal research skills? ...
  4. How organized are you and how do you check the accuracy of your work? ...
  5. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation.

What computer skills does a paralegal need? ›

8 Crucial Tech Skills for Paralegals
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) ...
  • Timekeeping Software.
  • Basic Computer.
  • Document Management. ...
  • Scheduling. ...
  • e-Filing. ...
  • Electronically Stored Information (ESI) ...
  • Trial Presentation Software.
28 Oct 2019

What are the 5 typical duties of a paralegals? ›

Within the 5 job duties associated with the position, a paralegal must have a diverse set of skills, experience, and knowledge.
  • Research. ...
  • Case Preparation. ...
  • Document Management. ...
  • Courtroom and Legal Proceedings Assistance. ...
  • Communication and Coordination.

How should I dress for a paralegal interview? ›

Regardless of the dress code for the law firm, I'm a firm believer that when you go to a paralegal interview, you should wear a suit. A suit is professional and demonstrates that you pay close attention to detail and you're committed to your career.

How can I improve my paralegal skills? ›

How to improve paralegal skills
  1. Work as a legal secretary. Many professionals enter the field by working as a legal secretary or legal assistant then work their way up to being a paralegal. ...
  2. Research legal topics. ...
  3. Attend a paralegal training program. ...
  4. Learn how to use popular software programs.
29 Apr 2022

How do I prepare for a paralegal job? ›

Six Tips to Ace Your Paralegal Interview
  1. Show Positivity. First and foremost, hiring managers look at who will be a good fit for their team, and positive team players are often sought after.
  2. Dress in a way that commands respect. ...
  3. Use strong body positioning. ...
  4. Make eye contact. ...
  5. Speak slowly. ...
  6. Turn off your cell phone.
26 Jul 2021

What do paralegals do on a daily basis? ›

What do Paralegals do on a daily basis? A paralegal's day-to-day responsibilities can be varied and changes from firm to firm and case to case. Daily tasks can include general preparing of cases, liaising with other legal professionals, close support with lawyers and researching in detail.

Is being paralegal hard? ›

Stressful and Challenging Work Environment

You may answer to several attorneys at once, each with different needs. Clients, too, can be demanding and difficult. The ability to switch gears quickly and to multitask under pressure is critical to your success as a paralegal.

What are the job duties of a paralegal? ›

The Paralegal (PL) assists with case planning, development, and management, legal research, interviews clients, gathers facts and retrieves information, drafts and analyzes legal documents and collects, complies and utilizes technical information, to make recommendations to an attorney. 1.

How can I use Excel as a paralegal? ›

Here are some of the most important skills paralegal students who want an excellent career should develop:
  1. Prioritizing. The ability to multitask is a skill paralegals must hone. ...
  2. Thinking Ahead. ...
  3. Communication. ...
  4. Writing. ...
  5. Researching. ...
  6. Technology. ...
  7. Organization/Flexibility. ...
  8. Teamwork.
23 Oct 2012

Can you be a paralegal without a law degree? ›

Do you need a Law Degree to become a Paralegal? You do not need a Law Degree to become a paralegal. However, many employers look for legal or paralegal training. There are specialist qualifications for paralegals, developed to give you the skills and knowledge to work effectively as a paralegal.

What is your favorite thing about being a paralegal? ›

A Diverse Work Environment

One of the most exciting things about being a paralegal is your limitless ability to learn. Being a paralegal means that you are a jack of all trades. Attorneys will call on you for ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING (trust me).

How do paralegals stay organized? ›

Keep a list of your monthly, weekly, and daily tasks and responsibilities. Prioritize the tasks on your list by assigning numbers or placing them in order of importance. This will enable you to focus your attention on important tasks first and help you stay motivated to complete everything that needs to be done.

What software does paralegals use? ›

Microsoft Office, Open Office, and Google Docs are common software suites that are used in many law firms. Knowledge of one of these programs is a must for legal assistants and paralegals. As a legal professional, you will be communicating and exchanging documents with other parties.

Do paralegals need to know Excel? ›

Microsoft Office, especially Excel and Word, continue to be ubiquitous in most law firms. Many courts require filings to be made in Word format. Lawyers, and especially paralegals, use Excel for a range of operational and project specific processes.

What kind of technology do paralegals use? ›

Case Management Software: Paralegals often need to help firms keep track of a client's case information. With this type of technology for paralegals, staff can easily collaborate on cases and track updates in real-time. Document Management Software: Documents are a large part of any paralegal's workload.

What are four things that a paralegal Cannot do? ›

Paralegals are also not allowed to set the amount of a fee to be charged for legal services; represent clients in court; provide legal advice and opinions (although they can relay information given to them by their supervising attorneys); hold themselves out as attorneys; or make unsupervised legal judgments.

Is paralegal a stressful job? ›

Being a paralegal is stressful, and paralegal burnout is real. Paralegals work notoriously long hours, and their tasks include everything from office management to doing case research and preparing and editing legal contracts and documents. Paralegal's tasks have a direct impact on the outcomes of matters and cases.

What is the most important role of a paralegal? ›

One of the most important roles of a paralegal is to assist their attorney in preparing for trials, hearings, and closings. A large part of this consists of conducting legal research and gathering relevant information to the case.

Can paralegals have tattoos? ›

According to the handbook, they don't care about hairstyles or tattoos, piercings, etc. plenty of my coworker's have full sleeves and in the next couple of weeks I'll be dying my hair an unnatural color.

Do Paralegals wear heels? ›

Paralegals should find a pair of heels that are both fashionable and soothing to the feet. After all, these are the shoes you will be spending most of your work life wearing.

What should a female wear to a law firm interview? ›

Standard attire for law firm interviews is business formal. This is the most strict and conservative work place attire. Your goals should be to look polished and professional -- not unique, cute, memorable or trendy. Your interviewer should remember you for your answers to questions -- not your attire.

How do paralegals prepare for the first day? ›

Staying Busy and Being Productive
  1. Explore the computer and network. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the office files. ...
  2. Start familiarizing yourself with your clients. A large part of your first day as a paralegal, will almost certainly be spent answering the phone. ...
  3. Shadow a colleague.
24 Mar 2013

Are paralegals overworked? ›

Paralegals who are employed in law firm environments frequently work more than 40 hours a week, although those who are employed in corporate and government arenas might enjoy more relaxed schedules. And you can probably forget about being paid time and a half for your hours over 40.

What area of law pays the most for paralegals? ›

Law Firm Paralegals

While it only takes an associate's degree to get into the paralegal field, it will typically take more than that to get a high paying job. One area where paralegals can make a good salary is the corporate law field.

What questions do they ask during interview? ›

50+ most common job interview questions
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • How did you hear about this position?
  • Why do you want to work at this company?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What can you bring to the company?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
2 Sept 2022

What are your legal research skills? ›

With this in mind, the legal research process can be broken down into three basic elements: Understanding the key details and questions of your legal issue, finding laws and information to support your legal argument, and checking that what you've found is still relevant.

How do paralegals do legal research? ›

Online Legal Research Tips for Paralegals
  1. Define Before You Dig. ...
  2. Dig Deeper Than Standard Search Engines. ...
  3. Get Social. ...
  4. Narrow Results Through Advanced Searches. ...
  5. Use Expert Sources. ...
  6. Take a Break to Take it in. ...
  7. Work Until the Last Minute. ...
  8. Trust but Verify.

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant? ›

Legal assistants are limited to administrative and general office duties while paralegals often work closely with lawyers on their present cases.

Can paralegal become lawyer? ›

Paralegals can become lawyers by attending law school and passing the bar exam just like anyone else who aspires to become a lawyer. As paralegals, these types of professionals spend a lot of time assisting lawyers in their work.

Do paralegals sit all day? ›

Working Conditions. Most Paralegals often sit for hours at desks in law offices and law libraries where they use computers to complete their assignments. They usually work a standard 40-hour week but some work part time or seasonally.

What does a day in the life of a paralegal look like? ›

Paralegals work hand in hand with lawyers, helping to prepare cases for trial. In their preparatory work, they uncover all the facts of the case, conduct research to highlight relevant case laws and court decisions, obtain affidavits, and assist with depositions and other materials relevant to cases.

What are the pros and cons of being a paralegal? ›

Pros and Cons of Being a Paralegal
  • Pro: Training. 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. ...
  • Con: Salary. ...
  • Pro: Less Debt. ...
  • Con: Job Stability. ...
  • Pro: More Job Opportunities. ...
  • Pro: Freedom. ...
  • Con: Juggling. ...
  • Con: Time.

Are paralegals mostly female? ›

77.6% of all paralegals are women, while 22.4% are men. The average age of an employed paralegal is 45 years old. The most common ethnicity of paralegals is White (65.1%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (18.3%) and Black or African American (8.9%). In 2021, women earned 99% of what men earned.

What are the characteristics of legal assistant? ›

10 Essential Skills for Legal Assistants
  • Organizational Skills. Attorneys are busy professionals. ...
  • Writing Skills. ...
  • Technical Skills. ...
  • Detail Oriented. ...
  • Interpersonal Skills. ...
  • Understanding of Legal Terminology and Documentation. ...
  • Multi-Tasking. ...
  • Adaptability.
26 Jul 2020

How should I dress for a paralegal interview? ›

Regardless of the dress code for the law firm, I'm a firm believer that when you go to a paralegal interview, you should wear a suit. A suit is professional and demonstrates that you pay close attention to detail and you're committed to your career.

What professional skills do paralegal Associations emphasize? ›

In order to be a successful paralegal, an individual should possess not only a common core of legal knowledge, but also must have acquired vital critical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills.

What is one quality all successful legal secretaries must have and why? ›

The most successful secretaries possess drive and initiative. They don't sit waiting for an attorney's instructions or assignments; they stay on top of what needs to be accomplished in any given time period. They anticipate their employer's and clients' needs.

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant? ›

Legal assistants are limited to administrative and general office duties while paralegals often work closely with lawyers on their present cases.

What are your strengths legal assistant? ›

2. Legal Assistants Must be Strong Communicators. In any legal assistant position, communication and interpersonal skills will be crucial when it comes to working as a team, interacting with clients, coordinating appointments, and understanding requests from attorneys.

Why do you want to work as a legal assistant? ›

Example Answer:

I chose a career in law because I wanted to join a rewarding profession where I would be able to use my skills to help others. I have always been interested in the justice system, and I want to do my part to make sure people are treated fairly under the law.

How do I prepare for a paralegal job? ›

Six Tips to Ace Your Paralegal Interview
  1. Show Positivity. First and foremost, hiring managers look at who will be a good fit for their team, and positive team players are often sought after.
  2. Dress in a way that commands respect. ...
  3. Use strong body positioning. ...
  4. Make eye contact. ...
  5. Speak slowly. ...
  6. Turn off your cell phone.
26 Jul 2021

Can paralegals have tattoos? ›

According to the handbook, they don't care about hairstyles or tattoos, piercings, etc. plenty of my coworker's have full sleeves and in the next couple of weeks I'll be dying my hair an unnatural color.

Do Paralegals wear heels? ›

Paralegals should find a pair of heels that are both fashionable and soothing to the feet. After all, these are the shoes you will be spending most of your work life wearing.

How can I improve my paralegal skills? ›

How to improve paralegal skills
  1. Work as a legal secretary. Many professionals enter the field by working as a legal secretary or legal assistant then work their way up to being a paralegal. ...
  2. Research legal topics. ...
  3. Attend a paralegal training program. ...
  4. Learn how to use popular software programs.
29 Apr 2022

How can I use Excel as a paralegal? ›

Here are some of the most important skills paralegal students who want an excellent career should develop:
  1. Prioritizing. The ability to multitask is a skill paralegals must hone. ...
  2. Thinking Ahead. ...
  3. Communication. ...
  4. Writing. ...
  5. Researching. ...
  6. Technology. ...
  7. Organization/Flexibility. ...
  8. Teamwork.
23 Oct 2012

Who is a paralegal and what are the qualities required to be a good paralegal? ›

Highly organized (this is on 99% of the lists you'll find) Good communication skills (another popular “trait or characteristic” associated with paralegals) Excellent research and writing skills. Ability to multitask.

What is the paralegal job description? ›

DEFINITION. The Paralegal (PL) assists with case planning, development, and management, legal research, interviews clients, gathers facts and retrieves information, drafts and analyzes legal documents and collects, complies and utilizes technical information, to make recommendations to an attorney.

What do you think are the most important skills a secretary should have? ›

Qualities that make a good secretary

Organisational skills: a strong ability to be organised, keep a clear head and keep track of everything from deadlines to essential files. Professional communication skills: clear and friendly communication, along with a personable phone manner.

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