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Paralegal Career Guide

A career as a paralegal offers a fast-paced, exciting and meaningful career in the legal field. As more and more law firms look to decrease their costs and increased their effectiveness, the demand for, and employment of, paralegals is set to increase faster than the average for all other professions over the coming years.

To become a paralegal, you will need to achieve an associates degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution. Or, a bachelor’s degree and then typically a certificate in paralegal studies. Once qualified, paralegals typically work around 40 hours per week and can specialize in a particular area of law, such as corporate, employment, family or bankruptcy law, to name a few.

Behind every great lawyer is a paralegal

MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY

Paralegal Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Paralegal Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Paralegal field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33733 Bankruptcy Paralegal Male 23 $21,000 Brookline, MA 01/01/2010
33711 Assistant Vice President / Sr. Corporate Paralegal Female 28 $78,500 Los Angeles, CA 01/01/2010
33692 Paralegal/Legal Secretary Female 33 $40,000 Baton Rouge, LA 01/01/2010
33650 Paralegal Female 48 $60,000 NEW ALBANY, IN 01/01/2010
33332 Paralegal Female 46 $55,000 Crowley, TX 01/01/2010

Overview

What a paralegal actually does

The primary purpose of a paralegal is to support lawyers in their work. They can work in many different legal areas, including civil litigation, criminal litigation, commercial law, employment law, wills and succession, consumer law, personal injury, corporate law, contract law or family law.

The typical daily duties of a paralegal may vary depending on what area of law they specialise in, there experience and the size of the law firm they are employed by. However, their daily duties and responsibilities tend to include:

  • Filing case files and handling client caseloads
  • Conducting research on relevant laws, regulations and legal articles
  • Presenting applications to judges in court
  • Interviewing witnesses and taking witness statements
  • Helping lawyers prepare for court cases, including helping them to produce opening and closing statements and writing reports to help them prepare
  • Administrative duties, such as inputting data, filing, answering phone calls or dealing with email correspondence
  • Drafting legal documents and letters

Why they are needed

Paralegals play a hugely important role within the legal sector, often being considered the ‘heart’ of a law firm. They have extensive legal knowledge and can perform a wide range of legal duties. They play a key role in helping lawyers prepare for all types of legal matters, by reducing the workload and pressure on the lawyer by researching, filing and keeping up with administrative duties.

Pros and cons of a career as a paralegal:

Pros:

  • There is longevity and security in a career as a paralegal as there will always be a need for lawyers, and lawyers will always need paralegals to help lessen their workload
  • It is a relatively easy career to access, with most paralegals completing the required training in as little as two years
  • As a paralegal, you will get to work closely with others and help them through the most difficult experiences of their life. This makes it a rewarding and fulfilling career
  • It is a diverse career path as paralegals can specialize in a particular area of law. They can also work for small, medium or large law firms and have the opportunity to become self-employed
  • It is a fast-paced career where no two days are ever the same. This makes it an incredibly interesting, fulfilling and exciting career path to follow

Cons:

  • Paralegals tend to have limited career growth as to progress they must transition into another role entirely or attend law school
  • Working as a paralegal can be very high-pressured, deadline-driven and results oriented, making it a very stressful career at times
  • We all know that lawyers have to work long hours when deadlines are tight and there is a high workload. Well, paralegals do not escape this and will often be working these long hours too (but receiving less recognition and pay for their time)
  • Like most jobs, paralegals have to conduct tedious work, such as filing, answering phone calls or responding to emails
  • Due to the prestigiousness of being a lawyer, paralegals, who do not have to be licensed, may feel under respected or appreciated

Employability

Job market

The Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts that the employment of paralegals is projected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average.

The paralegal job market is set to increase as law firms are looking for ways to reduce their costs and increase their efficiency by hiring more paralegals to support lawyers. Clients are also pushing for less expensive legal services, so law firms are looking to hire more paralegals. As this costs them less than hiring lawyers, so that they can offer lower rates for their legal services.

The Bureau of Labour Statistics also predicts that many corporations are expected to increase their in-house legal departments to cut costs, meaning that there will be an increase in the demand for legal workers, such as paralegals, in a variety of corporate settings. This gives paralegals the opportunity to broaden their career path and to work in settings such as finance, insurance, consulting and healthcare.

Career paths

There are a few different career paths a person can take to become a paralegal. The most common is to achieve an associates degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution.

However, it is starting to become more common for employers to prefer paralegals who have a bachelor’s degree, either in paralegal studies (this is hard to get as there are only a few schools who offer paralegal bachelor’s degrees) or a related field. If you achieve a bachelor’s degree that isn’t in paralegal studies, then it is highly advisable to achieve a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.

Example Job Titles for Paralegal

Below is a list of common job titles in the Paralegal field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the median annual wage for paralegals was $51,740 as of 2019. The lowest 10% earn less than $32,160 and the highest 10% earn more than $82,500.

On top of this, most paralegal positions include attractive benefits such as medical, dental, life and disability insurance. Some employers will also provide tuition reimbursement or pay for classes and seminars.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Paralegals are often unlicensed, and are therefore unregulated, so it means that their duties, responsibilities and actions in a law firms are somewhat restrained and restricted. Due to this, the work of a paralegal is almost always supervised, overseen and directed by a licensed lawyer. This can mean that there is little autonomy and flexibility in their work.

Locations and commute

According to U.S.News, the top five areas that pay the highest salary in the paralegal profession are San Jose, Napa, Oxnard, Trenton and Washington. Like most legal professions, there will be more job opportunities in larger cities, where there are larger and more results-driven law firms. However, of course, the trade-off for this is that competition is generally more fierce in bigger cities.

Law firms in small cities and towns will still hire paralegals to cut their costs and increase their effectiveness. Due to this, it should be relatively easy to find a job with a short commute from wherever you decide to locate.

Work environment

The Bureau of Labour Statistics concluded that 73% of paralegal professionals are employed by legal services. Other employers of paralegals include local governments, federal governments, state government and finance and insurance.

Paralegals typically work in small teams, which consist of lawyers and other legal support staff (e.g., legal secretaries). A paralegal will normally always do all their work in offices, but may perhaps have to occasionally travel to collect documents or accompany lawyers to trials.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Paralegal careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Paralegal career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Paralegal.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There is actually no exploration surrounding the specific personality types that make successful paralegals. However, as paralegals have to complete important tasks, with the utmost accuracy and to a strict deadline, it is not unreasonable to conclude that successful paralegals will be highly conscientious. Paralegals will also work in teams, so will most likely show high levels of extraversion and sociability.

Accomplishment and mastery

As paralegals do not need a license to practice, they are normally always supervised by licensed lawyers, who delegate tasks to them and can then put their name on the work. Paralegals are also sometimes not that highly regarded in law firms and can be delegated tedious and mundane tasks. These factors, accompanied with the fact that there is not a grave amount of education required to become a paralegal, can mean that the sense of accomplishment and mastery can be quite low.

Meaning and contribution

One of the reoccurring themes as to why paralegals love their job is that they get to help different people, through very difficult times, every single day. Of course, there are some law firms that are just out to get their clients money, but the vast majority of firms place a high emphasis on helping their clients and improving their lives. This means that, despite not offering much autonomy or mastery, a career as a paralegal can be incredibly fulfilling and meaningful.

Life fit

Paralegals tend to work 40 hours a week, meaning that the career offers a great life fit for more. However, paralegals will often work over these 40 hours per week in order to meet deadlines.

Who will thrive in this career?

Firstly, if you have good judgement, meaning you can clearly understand a problem or situation and decide whether to work independently or consult a lawyer, then you are likely to thrive in a career as a paralegal as this allows you to work efficiently.

Those who are resourceful and innovative are also likely to thrive in a career as a paralegal as they will tackle problems independently, without having to be told to do so. Similarly to this, those who can successfully think outside the box when tackling problems are likely to thrive in a career as a paralegal.

Those who will thrive as a paralegal will also show persistence. Being a paralegal can be tough: there will be days where you feel under appreciated, days when deadlines are imminent and there will always be tough cases to tackle. In order to thrive, a paralegal must be able to push through these tricky times and carry on until the end.

Who will struggle in this career?

If you do not work well under pressure, then you may struggle with the fast-paced environment and strict deadlines that often come with working in the legal setting. Those who do not enjoy working in teams, or being managed by others, may also struggle as a paralegal, as much of the work is based around working in small teams and being overseen by a lawyer.

Requirements

Skills and talents

The typical skills and talents required for a paralegal include:

  • Communication skills, as paralegals will have to document and present their research and related information to the lawyer in a clear and concise manner
  • Teamwork skills, as paralegals work as part of a small team that consists of a lawyer and other legal professionals
  • Attention to detail, as paralegals will research and document lots of important information and be responsible for keeping documents up to date to the highest standard
  • Interpersonal skills, as paralegals will spend a lot of their time working with clients. Paralegals must be able to build strong and professional relationships with clients and gain their trust
  • Technology skills, as paralegals will use different softwares for legal research, litigation support and for maintaining and organizing documents.

Education

To become a paralegal, you can achieve an associates degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution. However, it is starting to become more common for employers to prefer paralegals who have a bachelor’s degree, either in paralegal studies or in a field that requires critical thinking and essay writing. If you obtain a bachelors degree in a related field (e.g., history, geography, business, psychology or ethics), you should then consider getting a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.

Certifications

Paralegals are not required to be licensed, hence why they are always very closely supervised. However, employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program.

How to Become

Summary

A career as a paralegal can certainly offer a fast-paced, exciting and meaningful career in the legal field. As more and more law firms look to decrease their costs and increase their effectiveness, the demand for, and employment of, paralegals is set to increase fast than the average for all other professions over the coming years.

Immediate action (what can you do)

To kick start a career as a paralegal, it is advisable to begin to network as soon as possible. Contact law firms and find out what kind of qualities, skills and qualifications they look for. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, consider where you would like to earn your certificate from. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, consider which path you would like to take. Getting a paralegal associate’s degree is a quicker route, but offers very little progression or things to fall back on if you decide being a paralegal is not for you.

Education and learning

To become a paralegal, you will either need to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution. Or, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree followed by a certificate in paralegal studies. Once hired, paralegals will receive on the job training about the specifics of that firm.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Paralegal careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33733 Bankruptcy Paralegal Male 23 $21,000 Brookline, MA 01/01/2010
33711 Assistant Vice President / Sr. Corporate Paralegal Female 28 $78,500 Los Angeles, CA 01/01/2010
33692 Paralegal/Legal Secretary Female 33 $40,000 Baton Rouge, LA 01/01/2010
33650 Paralegal Female 48 $60,000 NEW ALBANY, IN 01/01/2010
33332 Paralegal Female 46 $55,000 Crowley, TX 01/01/2010

Resources