Written by: Emily Young // Sep 11, 2019
Last updated: Nov 17, 2022
You’d like to advance your career, and you think becoming a paralegal might be the way to do it. It’s a fast-growing field that offers challenging legal work for go-getters and problem-solvers like you — and the certification process is much faster than for a law degree. Got questions? Read on to know what you can expect as a paralegal.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals provide crucial support to lawyers, assisting them in “nearly every facet of the legal profession.” A paralegal might be asked to investigate a case, conduct research, write reports or legal documents, schedule depositions, interview clients, and more. Although paralegals do not practice law or represent clients in court, they are key members of a legal team.
Here’s the official American Bar Association definition:
“A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
“Substantive legal work” means paralegals are not relegated to clerical tasks. Their duties require both analysis and a solid foundation of legal concepts. Some paralegals even specialize in a particular area, such as estate planning and probate or immigration law.
Where Do Paralegals Work?
Many paralegals work in:
- Law firms
- Government agencies
- Corporate legal departments
Job duties vary depending on the workplace. A paralegal in a law firm might help prepare a case for trial, a corporate paralegal might draw up an employee contract, and a government paralegal might create a legal information guide.
What Is the Salary and Job Outlook for Paralegals?
In May 2018, the median paralegal salary was $50,940. And it’s a good time to become a paralegal: The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants to “grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026.”
Is My Personality a Good Fit for this Profession?
To determine whether you’d like being a paralegal, take some time to get to know yourself.
- Take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessment. You’ll emerge with a better idea of your personality.
- Complete the online O*NET Interest Profiler. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll have an overview of your interests and a list of career recommendations.
You can learn about the typical qualities of paralegals by perusing websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET. For example, a good paralegal likely possesses strong communication, computer, and critical thinking skills, and might also be described as being:
Finally, ask yourself whether aspects of the paralegal job appeal to you.
- Do you find legal concepts interesting? As a paralegal, you will be required to keep up with legal nuances and recent changes to laws.
- Do you enjoy writing? You will likely be doing a lot of it, whether writing reports or drafting documents such as mortgages and shareholder agreements.
- Are you efficient? You will be responsible for maintaining files.
- Are you willing to work longer hours? Sometimes you may need to log more than a 40-hour week to meet deadlines, and new paralegals may be required to work up to 90 hours a week.
- Can you tolerate some job-related stress? Being a paralegal involves keeping your cool while handling stressful situations.
- Do you have strong people skills? Building relationships with clients would be an essential part of your career.
- Do you want to enact change in your society? As a paralegal, you can make a positive difference in people’s lives, especially if you work at a nonprofit or for a community legal organization.
How Can I Learn More About this Career?
Reading this article is a good first step in researching the paralegal profession. Next, you can try:
- Reaching out to paralegal associations. The American Alliance of Paralegals and the National Association of Legal Assistants may be able to provide more information or direct you to a paralegal in your area.
- Contacting a paralegal certificate program. If you tell them you’re interested in this field, most programs will be happy to connect you with faculty who can tell you more.
How Do I Become a Paralegal?
If you’ve decided the paralegal profession is right for you, we have good news. It doesn’t take long to become certified in this field. Common education options include:
- An associate degree in paralegal studies
- A certificate in paralegal studies (with a bachelor’s degree in another field)
You can complete many certificate programs within a few months. For example, USF offers a four-month-long Paralegal Certificate Program that covers:
- Legal processes
- Court structure
- Document preparation
- File maintenance
- Writing and analysis
- Substantive topics of law such as torts, contracts, and civil procedure
Are you interested in learning more about USF’s Paralegal Certificate Program? Do you want to dive deeper into what it means to be a paralegal? We’re happy to help. Explore our program website or contact us at 813-974-6263.