Trying to figure out which job would be best for you but not make a decision? Figuring out your future and trying to decide what would be the best fit for you? These are some questions everyone goes through in their lives. Finding out what your future holds is not in your hands, but planning it is.
Going through the struggle is something everybody has to go through, but flying colors is not everyone’s cup of tea. And that is exactly what differentiates between a successful career and an ordinary career. You don’t need to do loads of things to thrive. A little knowledge and a lot of hard work are sufficient to make up for things.
Back in the opportunities were scarce, so people had to go through a lot to land a job. But these days, the opportunity has risen (well, so have the candidates), which gives you many opportunities to make the right choice. Since we have established the fact that deciding on a career is a big move and how we should go for it, it’s also important to make the right decision at the right time. This is because there are so many options available to go for when considering your career, be it the cliché choices like a doctor, engineer, scientist, and lawyer or not so cliché choices like assistants, managers, paralegals, etc.
Every job is important in its way, and it is not like one job is better than the others, so it is like what you are interested in or what your heart desires are what matters. Moving further, we are going to talk about one such career option that is being a paralegal. Before we go further, let’s understand what the word paralegal means. In the simplest of words, Paralegals (or sometimes called legal assistants) are people who are sort of responsible for handling legal work/duties but are not licensed lawyers (or attorneys). Let’s understand this further.
WHAT/ WHO IS A PARALEGAL?
The term paralegal stands for people who help attorneys or lawyers in almost all sorts of legal work in the legal profession. They are responsible for lightening the workload of a lawyer. From the first step to the last, they are there to aid the lawyers at every step of the way. From filling motions to summarizing reports and drafting documents to arrange meetings with clients, it is all under the paralegal job description.
A very famous saying that is used quite often, especially in the legal world, is “Behind every successful lawyer is the hand/role of a paralegal.” Big law firms are as much equipped with paralegals as they are with lawyers. All the big, renowned lawyers have one or a team of paralegals.
Like lawyers, paralegals also specialize in law, that is, criminal law, corporate law, family law, immigration law, etc. How much role wills the paralegal play in the case depends on the clients and how they want to operate. Some have a huge load of responsibility, while others are just on the lighter side of things and don’t do much because they are given lesser responsibility.
Paralegals should be team players and should be able to complete the task assigned to them. There are many opportunities for getting hired if you decide to pursue this job – be it by the law firms or the government agencies, paralegals are needed by one and all.
According to the recent reports shared by ‘Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a period of around 10 years, from 2019 to 2029. There is a possibility of a 10.5 percent increase in job opportunities for paralegals. Almost 35,000 jobs are expected to open up in the same duration, and therefore, this profession is quite in trend. In the rankings of ‘Best Jobs, ’ paralegals rank 53 while in the category of ‘Best Social Service Jobs,’ it’s ranked 5, which is a pretty good ranking. It is one of those few jobs where you can get a perfect balance of professional and personal life.
HOW TO BECOME A PARALEGAL?
If you have finally decided that this is what you want to do with your life, you should know how to get there. It’s just half the distance traveled because the real hustle starts now. Many roads can lead you to be a paralegal. If you get lucky enough, some firms or lawyers also hire people with 0 years of experience, and you can start working with them, gaining all the experience required.
But the basic steps involved to be a paralegal are mentioned below:
- COMPLETE THE POSTSECONDARY DEGREE
This is the 1st and the foremost step in your journey to becoming a paralegal. Many candidates also have an ‘associate degree’ in paralegal studies but a lot of firms/government bodies/lawyers prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree.
- GET A CERTIFICATE FOR THE COURSE
This is not a mandatory step but having a certification course in paralegal studies will give you an edge and therefore your chances of getting selected are increased massively. This course also allows you to have a hands-on experience and gives you the best introduction to the field. This course can have a duration range of 4 months to 2 years. The only thing you need to keep in mind before enrolling in the program is that to make sure the program and curriculum have been approved by the bar association (American bar association to be precise) and then you can go for the course.
- FIND AN INTERNSHIP AND GAIN EXPERIENCE
This is also not a mandatory step but like for any other program, internships are equally important for paralegals too. This gives you an opportunity and certainly a higher chance of getting hired concerning a candidate who hasn’t done any such internship. The duration of the internship can be according to your convenience and these can be even 1 month. Now, since this isn’t something that’s in the requirement, some companies prefer candidates who are fresh so that they can train them according to their needs but on average a candidate with some internship experience has a larger chance of getting hired.
Now you may ask the most basic question which started this discussion IS IT A GOOD CAREER? But before we move on to that question, we should explore how the life of a paralegal is.
HOW IS IT TO BE A PARALEGAL?
While the ultimate job requirements remain the same, the basic day-to-day jobs might change, and therefore some basic outline as to what you are getting into is stated below. They are:-
- BEING ABLE TO PREPARE LEGAL DOCUMENTS
This is the first and the foremost requirement that is mandatory if you considering applying for a job as a paralegal. Catching up on case files, pleadings, paperwork, and all the other documents is a prerequisite for the job.
- UPDATING THE PAPERWORK
Now, once you have understood the documents, updating paperwork and/or filling paperwork is the responsibility. It helps lawyers to make sure they don’t miss out on hearings or meetings. For example, in the case of a merger, once it’s done it’s the responsibility of the paralegal to complete the paperwork.
- COMMUNICATING WITH CLIENTS
This also comes in the list of basic requirements because that is what attorneys hire a big team or paralegals for. If they have to go meet the client on their own, for every big/small case, it would become a problem for them. So they send the paralegal with or without their associate to establish the basics of the case so that they can summarize it for the lawyer.
- MEETING WITNESSES
As important as client meetings are, the same are witness meetings too. The case very much depends on the witnesses only and the probability of winning or losing a case is determined by the kind of witness the lawyers present. Therefore, this is a very important step, and making sure the witness takes the stand or comes for the trial is the responsibility of the paralegal. Also corroborating the story of the witness and checking their facts is also very important.
- UPDATING SCHEDULES AND CALENDARS
Now, this is something that the paralegals have to do daily. Updating the schedule of the lawyer, making sure they attend through all the cases they have taken and don’t miss out on meetings/hearings, etc is the responsibility of the paralegal.
- RESEARCHING THE BASIS FOR LEGAL ISSUE
To build the case appropriately, this is a very important step. Researching is as much art as actually being on the case so finding proper legal precedents and/or previous cases from the same background is very important. This responsibility also belongs to the paralegal.
- CONFIRMING., ANALYZING, AND NOTING FACTS
Now once you have done all the required research and are ready to proceed with the precedents and procedure of your choice, confirmation of facts before moving onto this step is pretty important. Finding all the connections between your discoveries and finding ways in which these can help your client is nothing less than art. Compiling all the factual data for the lawyer and summarizing the facts also play a very important role.
- MANAGING LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
Now once you have all your case files and are ready to move forward with the case, managing legal proceedings also plays a very important role.
Once you establish all the facts and know your jobs description and the responsibilities you’ll have, finding that this is the right thing for you is significant. But, as is with everything else, deciding on being a paralegal is a big step. So the best way to make that decision is by making a pro and con list.
PROS OF BEING A PARALEGAL
- One of the biggest advantages of being a paralegal is that you have all the knowledge of the law and know all areas of law and even give advice as attorneys.
- You have various opportunities to work at different places. Whether it’s a private law firm or a government organization or even a legal corporation, paralegals are required by one and all. Since ‘para’ means ‘alongside’, these work side-to-side with the lawyers and therefore have a lot of hands-on exposure in terms of work.
- The payment slab for paralegals is very nice and therefore it gives financial security and helps you to plan your life accordingly. According to recent reports issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the availability of jobs for paralegals is about to increase twice as much as the jobs for lawyers. Keeping this in mind, job security will also increase in the field of paralegal.
- The job is a 9 to 5 job so paralegals can have the benefits of both personal and professional lives. Having a work-life balance is something that is almost missing from most of the jobs so that is a big advantage.
CONS OF BEING A PARALEGAL
- One of the biggest challenges is to keep up with the busy schedule. Since some law firms expect you to have a certain number of ‘billable hours’ that is something that kind of becomes a problem and a big challenge for paralegals.
- The lawyers can often ask for mundane tasks to be completed too. Some lawyers often forget to draw a line between a legal secretary and a paralegal and they end up asking a paralegal to do the administrative work as well.
- If you have decided to take on this paralegal career temporarily and then move onto law school and become a lawyer. This is something that can be a problem because getting into is very competitive as it is and along with that, paralegals find it difficult to cover up the cost of the law school.
Like any other job, the paralegal’s job also comes with its strengths and weaknesses but what is important is how and what you want. Whatever you decided, go through the prospective and future opportunities properly and make sure it is something you want. For example, if you want a stable and respectful job wherein you have a proper schedule and work cut out for you, this might be the job for you.