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) I QUIT MY JOB! | PROS & CONS OF BEING A PARALEGAL

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

FAQs

What are some qualities a person should have to be a good paralegal? ›

An indispensable paralegal has an ability to multitask, a strong attention to detail, a willingness to learn, an expertise in organization, and psychic abilities.

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 skills do you develop as a paralegal? ›

Skills and knowledge
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
  • the ability to read English.
  • excellent verbal communication skills.
  • excellent written communication skills.
  • administration skills.
  • the ability to work well with others.
  • legal knowledge including court procedures and government regulations.

How do you know if being a paralegal is right for you? ›

Paralegal Career - 5 Tips To Determine If Its Right For You
  • You must love research. ...
  • You must be organized. ...
  • You must work well with limited supervision. ...
  • You must work well under pressure. ...
  • You must have good people skills.

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 is your favorite thing about being a paralegal? ›

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 I prepare for a paralegal job? ›

When preparing for a Paralegal job interview, you should think about ways that you can demonstrate your research, organisation, prioritisation and interpersonal skills, as well as legal knowledge and a genuine interest in your practice area of choice.

How do you succeed in paralegal interview? ›

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

Why do paralegals quit? ›

There are a number of answers, including toxic culture in law firms, career burnout, and a desire to move up. Burnout and other stresses may make paralegals feel like there is nowhere to go, but that's not at all true. The law firm isn't the only place for paralegal to work and thrive in their career.

What are the pros and cons of a paralegal? ›

Pros and Cons of Being a Paralegal – Summary Table
Pros of Being a ParalegalCons Of Being a Paralegal
More InterestingPeriodically Heavy Workload
No Bar Exam RequiredNot As Much Authority
Increased NeedEasier Ways To Make Money
Opportunities in Many LocationsExtensive Education Required
6 more rows
1 Feb 2022

What does being a paralegal teach you? ›

Paralegal duties would typically involve preparing legal documents, research, admin, providing quotes to clients, interviewing clients and witnesses, giving clients legal information, going to court and handling a caseload of clients.

What qualities do you feel are most important for a successful legal assistant? ›

Top 10 Skills for Legal Assistants
  • Organizational Skills.
  • Writing Skills.
  • Technical Skills.
  • Detail Oriented.
  • Interpersonal Skills.
  • Understanding Legal Terminology and Documentation.
  • Multi-Tasking.
  • Adaptability.
26 Jul 2020

What are the four aspects of paralegal competency? ›

The four aspects of a lawyer's competency apply to paralegals: legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation.

What are the core competencies of a paralegal? ›

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.

Is being a paralegal easy? ›

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.

Is being a paralegal stressful? ›

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 are paralegals passionate about? ›

If you are passionate about helping people

This can be the perfect job for someone who wants to help people and make a difference. You will be playing an important part in people's lives, helping lawyers to build cases that will affect them for years to come.

Why are you a good fit for this job paralegal? ›

Tell me about yourself and why you want to be a Paralegal? SUGGESTED ANSWER: “Being naturally someone who has great attention to detail, an inquisitive mind and totally dedicated approach to my work, I believe the role of a Paralegal is one I would excel in.

How do you answer what is your greatest weakness? ›

Answer “what is your greatest weakness” by choosing a skill that is not essential to the job you're applying to and by stressing exactly how you're practically addressing your weakness. Some skills that you can use as weaknesses include impatience, multitasking, self-criticism, and procrastination.

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.

Why would you like to work with us? ›

Express your personal passion for the employer's product/service/mission. Employers want to know you're passionate about what they do, whether it takes the shape of a product, a service, a mission, or a brand. You can also connect your passion to the company's core values, which can often be found on their website.

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.

Why do you want to be a legal assistant answer? ›

“I want to be a Legal Assistant primary because I am passionate about the law and I find the legal process intriguing. As a Legal Assistant, there is always something new to learn, and I enjoy the type of work where I must be organized, and where I must support others in the execution of their duties.

How do you answer introduce yourself in an interview for experienced? ›

Key Takeaways
  1. Structure your answer in a way that makes sense. Stick to the past-present-future format, and you're all good!
  2. Keep it relevant and brief (1-2 minutes max). No one wants to hear your whole life story.
  3. Mention any of your top achievements and relevant work experiences.
4 Jul 2022

What questions should I ask at the end of an interview? ›

Questions to ask at the end of a job interview
  • How would you describe the company's culture? ...
  • What is your favorite thing about working for this company? ...
  • How do you see this company evolving over the next five years? ...
  • How would the person in this role contribute to this vision?

What qualities do you feel are most important for a successful legal assistant? ›

Top 10 Skills for Legal Assistants
  • Organizational Skills.
  • Writing Skills.
  • Technical Skills.
  • Detail Oriented.
  • Interpersonal Skills.
  • Understanding Legal Terminology and Documentation.
  • Multi-Tasking.
  • Adaptability.
26 Jul 2020

What does a good paralegal do? ›

They are the ones that prepare all the evidence to present in court, coordinate all the witnesses, search for information needed by the attorney to prepare for trial, prepare contracts, affidavits and many other documents, and a lot of the routine tasks attorneys used to do themselves in the past.

What are the four aspects of paralegal competency? ›

The four aspects of a lawyer's competency apply to paralegals: legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation.

What professional skills do paralegal Associations emphasize? ›

AAfPE Core Competencies for Paralegal Programs

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.

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 does being a paralegal teach you? ›

Paralegal duties would typically involve preparing legal documents, research, admin, providing quotes to clients, interviewing clients and witnesses, giving clients legal information, going to court and handling a caseload of clients.

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

Paralegals are essentially the detail specialists on a legal team. To succeed, you need to be highly organized and efficient with your time. Key roles include researching cases and organizing files of important legal documents.

What are 3 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.

What are the 5 typical duties of a paralegals? ›

Typical duties of a paralegal include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client.
  • Locate and interview witnesses.
  • Conduct investigations, statistical and documentary research.
  • Conduct legal research.
  • Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
8 Jun 2021

Do paralegals have letters after their name? ›

CP or CLA is the post-nominal credential in the United States earned by paralegals who have passed the Certified Paralegal Exam and have met up education and experience requirements for certification as a CP or CLA. The CP and CLA credential is recognized by the American Bar Association and State Bars.

What are four things that a paralegal Cannot do? ›

Paralegals must avoid the unauthorized practice of law. Generally, paralegals may not represent clients in court, take depositions, or sign pleadings. Some federal and state administrative agencies, however, do permit nonlawyer practice.

How many cases should a paralegal have? ›

In pre-litigation the average number for a successful case handler (my experience ) is 80–100 cases. In litigation a true paralegal might work on ten or up to 40 cases.

How do I prepare for a paralegal interview? ›

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

How do paralegals stay organized? ›

Top 5 Organization Tips to Be a Rock Star Paralegal
  1. Organize Predictably. One thing I cannot stress enough in litigation file management is – organize your file from the VERY beginning. ...
  2. Take Time. ...
  3. Make Lists. ...
  4. Now, Not Later. ...
  5. Take Breaks.

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

Is being a 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.

Videos

1. Is It Worth It To Become A Paralegal
(Jack Lloyd)
2. BECOMING A PARALEGAL WITHOUT EXPERIENCE: Secure a job at a law firm
(Arrow Consultants | Misty Murray)
3. day in the life of a paralegal: intakes and case management | 9-5 work vlog
(Leah Thomas)
4. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BECOME A PARALEGAL!!
(Samerah Dana'e)
5. What is a Paralegal?
(Lawyer You Know)
6. Paralegal Certification | Suggestions From a Paralegal Coach
(Arrow Consultants | Misty Murray)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Twana Towne Ret

Last Updated: 09/10/2022

Views: 6142

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.