We were very fortunate to have the author of Paralegals on Trial take time out of her busy schedule to provide insights into her work as a litigation paralegal.
1. Why did you decide to pursue a career as a paralegal?
I was working as a legal staffing coordinator placing paralegals and attorneys. As I started to understand the position, I caught the legal bug myself. I continued to work full time but attended classes at the local community college at night. I graduated after just two years in the program and was lucky enough to find a job right out of school working in a small, plaintiffs litigation firm.
2. What activities do you spend most of your time on while at work?
Oh wow – this is a good one. Unfortunately a lot of paralegal work isn't as glamorous as television makes it seem. I do a lot of general file organization, updating of correspondence, pleadings indexes, etc. to ensure that the file is always in immaculate shape and that the attorneys can get their hands on whatever they need at a moments notice. After that, I'd say it's a mix between document review (Paralegals should ALWAYS read EVERYTHING that comes across their desks) and electronic discovery work (coding in summation, designing presentations for trial, mediations, etc.).
3. What do you like most about working as a paralegal and what do you like least?
What I love most is working in a variety of different areas. the litigation field allows a paralegal to put her hands on everything from contract law to land disputes. One day I may be learning about how much oak trees are worth and the next I'm learning about incorporating a company or minority shareholder oppression.
What I like least would probably be the sometimes long stretches of time without any court appearances or sexy cases coming across my desk. But hey, that's the economy and not every case is going to be something that you're particularly interested in.
4. What advice would you give someone who is interested in starting a career as a paralegal?
Ask around and SHADOW in a law firm. A young paralegal may think he or she is interested in the family law or criminal realm but once you get to see that world in action, they may have a VERY different perspective. A lot of areas of law are very “form driven” for example, so a paralegal wouldn't be able to use her own critical thinking and analysis skills as often as in a different area per se. Also: Never quit learning and NEVER EVER be afraid to ask. Realize that the end of the day, it is not the paralegal but their attorney who signs those documents and must stand before a judge and/or jury to defend or pursue a case, NOT the paralegal.
5. What educational degrees or certificates did you acquire, and did this help you in getting hired as a paralegal?
I hold a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and also my ABA approved paralegal certification. A lot of larger firms are requiring that their paralegals hold a 4 year undergraduate degree so if a paralegal has an opportunity to pursue that option, I would highly recommend it.