By Laura Herrera | February 12, 2018
I’ve been a paralegal, focusing primarily on family law, for over 20 years. That’s a long time to be in one career, and I’m very happy with my choice. I initially chose this career because I wanted the opportunity to help families resolve their disputes, but, over the years, I’ve also found there are many benefits to my chosen field.
Paralegals are needed all over the country so I’m not tied to a specific location or job. I really like that each day is different—who I’m working with, what I’m doing, and which case I’m working on. I also like the independence and job security that the career gives me. Pay is based on your role in the firm, your years of experience, and your specialty.
I’ve worked with some great paralegals. As with any job, standing out in a crowd requires many skills and talents, and most importantly, a strong work ethic. If you’re considering a career change to become a paralegal, you may want to do a little self-reflection and ask yourself the following questions:
Do small details matter to you? In this field, attention to details is paramount! Not only being able to calendar deadlines and follow up on cases, but also to know when something is missing from a file. Good paralegals look ahead to upcoming trials, review files, and communicate with the client regarding missing items.
Are you a strong communicator? We are constantly on the phone or emailing clients. Paralegals need to know their audience and they must make sure that communication is clear and will not be misinterpreted. A short to the point email may appear to be rude to a client when, in fact, the paralegal was just trying to be succinct. This skill is perfected with time on the job.
Do your texts usually have correct punctuation? LOL! Whether it’s a simple pleading or a complex brief, paralegals must exhibit strong writing and grammatical skills. While there are programs available to help to ensure your writing is spot-on, most of us totally rely on our peers to double-check our work.
Are you internet savvy? Paralegals should be inquisitive, they should be familiar with search engines, and they should have an inner drive that makes them want to keep researching until they find information to help their clients. Social media posts can be a great place to start; Facebook posts are frequently introduced as evidence in trials.
Are you open-minded and compassionate? Paralegals will come into contact with clients from very diverse backgrounds, and those who need a lawyer normally are not in the best place in their life. A paralegal who can say, “I understand where you are coming from” will help to reassure and comfort an anxious client.
Is organization important to you? Organization not only helps the attorney when meeting with the client, it also helps in preparing the case for trial. Attorneys do not want to have to rustle through a file to find documents during a trial. A paralegal who can immediately produce what the attorney needs is invaluable especially during client meetings and trial preparation.
Do you have high ethical standards? It is of utmost importance that a paralegal works within the ethical guidelines of the profession. Some paralegals have been exposed to unethical behavior including situations when they’ve been faced with offers of money to draft pleadings outside the law office or help someone with their case.
Can you work independently or as part of a team? As a part of the law firm team, a paralegal plays a vital role. While some of our position requires independent working, a crucial part of being a paralegal is the ability to get along with others on your team and be a helpful member of the firm.
Are you okay with interruptions during your day? A paralegal may be working on a huge project one minute and then something completely different the next. The ability to remain calm and complete tasks is important. A good paralegal balances it all. In my case, not only am I the Office Administrator, but also the Senior Paralegal. In one day, I could pay bills, call in payroll, train junior staff members, send out bills, enter billable time, and draft a complex brief.
There are many layers to a great paralegal; however, lifelong learning is essential. The laws evolve and change over time. A great paralegal keeps up with the changes in the law, and he or she also keeps up with the trends in the practice of law. Paralegals who have the skills listed above, and those who also attend continuing education seminars and join paralegal associations, will have long rewarding careers.