We recently interviewed Stacey G. Hunt, the president of the Central Coast Paralegal Association in California to learn about how to become a paralegal in California and advice on having a successful career in the paralegal field.
Can you summarize the requirements for becoming a paralegal in California?
California law provides three paths to become a paralegal: (1) a certificate of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal program; (2) a certificate of completion of a paralegal program or degree from an accredited postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of at least 24 semester units in law-related courses; or (3) a baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree on any subject plus a minimum of one year of law related experience under the supervision on a California lawyer who has been practicing at least three years. California paralegals must complete four hours of general law CLE and four hours of ethics CLE every two years.
Would you recommend a certain type of degree to maximize one's ability to get hired quickly as a paralegal in California?
I live and work in a small town where a certificate is all you really need. However, it is my understanding that in larger metropolitan areas, competition is fierce and a bachelor's degree is a requirement. The bigger the firm, the more likely a degree will be required.
What do you like most about working in the paralegal field and what do you like the least?
What I love most is the intellectual challenge of the law and strategizing with the attorneys to plan the best possible outcome for the client. I love that I learn something new almost every day and that no two days are the same, since I get bored very easily!
Worrying about billable hours is probably what I like the least.
What advice would you give to new paralegals or paralegal students who want to have a successful career?
Be a “can-do” person – whatever the project, find a way to get it done. Don't be afraid to tackle difficult projects – you will learn so much and gain confidence in yourself and from others. Keep your learning curve short – your firm is investing time and money to train you so learn as much as you can as quickly as you can. Be a consummate professional – observe proper office etiquette, maintain a high level of ethics, and be a team player. Take an interest in your profession – stay up in the latest case law in your field of practice, read the national paralegal magazines for a bigger world view and become active in your local or regional paralegal association.
What activities currently take up most of your time during a typical work day?
That's the great thing about being a paralegal – you will quickly find there is no typical work day. Since my firm does business litigation work mostly, my day could consist of drafting pleadings, drafting or responding to discovery, doing legal or factual research, reviewing documents that have come in from opposing parties, talking to clients, going out to public agencies to review documents, and keeping up on new case law and legal blawgs. What I don't get to do enough is go to trial, my favorite activity of all!