Anyone Here a Paralegal? Or Friends with Paralegals? Or Employ Paralegals? -- Please Spill Your Guts

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I've been unemployed for a few months. Thinking about switching careers as there aren't too many jobs I'm qualified for where I currently live (spent most of my post-collegiate career working in various international logistics-type jobs; Houston's the Mecca for that industry, but not looking to move there).

One career that I think I'd enjoy is being a paralegal. I would probably have to go back to school for an associates in Paralegal Studies (I currently on have a BA degree in Psychology), so this is something I'd want to be sure I want due to the extra costs involved. A buddy of mine - who's an attorney - thinks I should just go to law school, but I'm not willing to go into extreme debt so that's a no-go.

I'm not sure if there are any paralegals here, but if so:

1.) Do you like your job?
2.) Would you recommend it to others?
3.) Did you need to get an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies?
And finally, because I'm a bit lazy
4.) Is it mostly a 40-45 hour a week job with the occasional exception? (I know this varies but work-life balance is important to me, and like I said, I'm lazy)

musicfanatic, Monday, 30 April 2012 18:29 (2 years ago) Permalink

5) who is your daddy
6) what does he do

Porto for Pyros (The Cursed Return of the Dastardly Thermo Thinwall), Monday, 30 April 2012 18:34 (2 years ago) Permalink

do you need a law degree to take the bar exam? i've heard the job market for lawyers was pretty depressed but this was a few years back.

Philip Nunez, Monday, 30 April 2012 18:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

Im a paralegal but I work at a big ass firm so experiences may differ

1. not really
2. maybe
3. no (but starting salary for a law clerk w/ a straight up bachelors' is pretty low.. around 30k)
4. if you work at big law firm you can work anywhere from a 37.5 hour week up to some crazy insane 80 hour shit if your case goes to trial

wolves in our wounds (mayor jingleberries), Monday, 30 April 2012 19:18 (2 years ago) Permalink

I work in-house at a giant bank...

1. meh.
2. depends on your other options. no matter how experienced you get you will always be on some level a second class citizen. you may also grow to dread the prospect of spending your life in a windowless cubicle.
3. no, but you'll probably have to hustle more (i.e. work your way up from being a temp probably)
4. one of the good things about working in-house is that you rarely end up working more than 40 hours a week. you need to either network like hell or work your way up from the bottom (see #3) to get hired at a place like this, though.

Gatemouth, Monday, 30 April 2012 19:29 (2 years ago) Permalink

right after i graduated undergrad, i was a paralegal at a small boutique law firm in Midtown Manhattan for two years before i went to law school. i did trusts & estates-related work, for which i got chosen b/c i had interned and worked in the accounting departments of companies not far from my undergrad campus and had accounting/economics classwork (or so i was told). base pay was kind of shitty, but since it was a law firm there was tons of overtime so i did pretty well financially (though i essentially had no life outside of work for those 2 years).

i'd definitely recommend paralegal work to someone who's thinking about law school at some point. you get to look inside a law firm and get to know the law business (to some extent) before you decide whether or not it's for you.

das Gewehr ist gut. der Penis ist böse. (Eisbaer), Monday, 30 April 2012 19:55 (2 years ago) Permalink

My title is "legal assistant" which term is interchangeable w/ "paralegal."

1.) Do you like your job? Yes, for the most part. I work at an firm that does mostly employment (litigation, govt. agency cases, contracts, negotiations) and some divorce/family and some transportation liability work. I like litigation and divorce a lot. My position is unusual b/c I work in a very small office with some quirks and I have to do office manager stuff and a lot of cat-herding like making sure the lawyers comply with their mandatory continuing education requirements and doing silly shit like being Harry Potter to their computers.

2.) Would you recommend it to others? I guess. I have recommended being a paralegal to friends though.

3.) Did you need to get an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies? No. I got a job at this firm over 4 years ago as an admin/legal secretary.
I intend to get a certificate, but I've been slow to do that and I've been learning a lot here. And finally, because I'm a bit lazy

4.) Is it mostly a 40-45 hour a week job with the occasional exception? (I know this varies but work-life balance is important to me, and like I said, I'm lazy) Mostly 40 hours. No solid requirements on billable hours. Occasionally right before trial I have worked 50+ hours.

Pita Malört (Je55e), Monday, 30 April 2012 19:58 (2 years ago) Permalink

nb: all i had was a BA (plus relevant work experience). and at least in Manhattan (back in the late 1990s/early 2000s), a lot of law firms (mostly BigLaw, but even smaller firms) knew that a lot of their paralegals were at least considering law school so they weren't sticklers for requiring that their paralegals have a Paralegal Studies degree. i think this still holds true. however, i do remember that outside of Manhattan -- e.g., law firms in New Jersey or smaller firms outside of Manhattan -- did want paras with a Paralegal Studies degree so it may depend. also, Paralegal Studies programs are often taught by local attorneys who may either be looking for a paralegal or two themselves or know other lawyers who are -- so getting an AA may be worthwhile for that reason.

das Gewehr ist gut. der Penis ist böse. (Eisbaer), Monday, 30 April 2012 20:01 (2 years ago) Permalink

Been dying to get an in house job but have no idea htf thats supposed to happen. Figured Id have better luck if I was a corporate paralegal and not just straight up litigation =\

wolves in our wounds (mayor jingleberries), Monday, 30 April 2012 20:10 (2 years ago) Permalink

I'm a lawyer but I used to be a paralegal and I teach paralegal courses.

My paralegal experience was probably irrelevant (long ago, working for a very strange solo practitioner in NC) but I guess I can speak to this one:

3.) Did you need to get an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies?

I had a bachelor's and got a "certificate of legal administration" for a four-year college. They offered a legal administration minor, and I took all the core classes for that to get the certificate. It was a good program that used law school textbooks instead of workbooks or whatever. I got a job working as a paralegal about halfway through the program, and then went to law school, but the courses did help me get the job.

As for which one you should do, it depends on what where you want to work. Getting a paralegal certificate will definitely make you more appealing in the job market and will be easier, faster, and cheaper than getting an AA or completing a post-baccalaureate program. But if you want to do in-house work or work for a large firm and you have a bachelor's, you're probably better off enrolling in a post-bacc program (like this one at Loyola - http://www.luc.edu/paralegal/). Big firms are unimpressed by paralegal certificates.

If you do go for a certificate, look for one offered by a school that has internships and/or job placement assistance. I would also recommend a school with a decent reputation, so an established community or four-year college instead of Univ. of Phoenix or correspondence school.

Polly biscuit face (carl agatha), Monday, 30 April 2012 20:23 (2 years ago) Permalink

From a four-year college, not for a four year college. It took me two years to get it, but I went part time and I think I skipped summer sessions.

Also I teach at a community college that has an unaccredited, certificate program w/ an internship component.

Polly biscuit face (carl agatha), Monday, 30 April 2012 20:26 (2 years ago) Permalink

Tons of great feedback. Appreciate it.


2. depends on your other options. no matter how experienced you get you will always be on some level a second class citizen. you may also grow to dread the prospect of spending your life in a windowless cubicle.

― Gatemouth, Monday, April 30, 2012 12:29 PM (4 hours ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

This is what my friend who was a lawyer said, that the lawyers he worked for before he went to law school treated him with contempt when he was a paralegal. Guessing that can vary depending on the firm.

musicfanatic, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 00:27 (2 years ago) Permalink

My only experience working in a law firm was as a runner my freshmen year at college (which obv isn't the same thing). The only thing I hated was answering phones, which the legal assistants/paralegals in my firm didn't have to do. Are you guys on the phone all day?

musicfanatic, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 00:31 (2 years ago) Permalink

my brother is a paralegal at a fancy firm and he has just a bachelor's degree. but he graduated in the past couple years from an ivy league school and i think that's what they were looking for. they wanted someone young who was only going to be there a year or two and go off to law or grad school, not a tired old fogey i guess. he works many many hours and went to omaha for like 6 weeks recently. i am a lawyer and i am confident he makes much more than i do. it's sad!

the phone stuff varies a lot. some places have receptionists and secretaries to do that, some places make paralegals/legal assistants do everything in the world.

kneel aurmstrong (harbl), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 01:12 (2 years ago) Permalink

paralegals are on the phone all the time at the firm i work at but we're pretty small

frogbs in the trap (J0rdan S.), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 01:18 (2 years ago) Permalink

I realise that this isn't really on topic, but what is it that a US/Canada paralegal does? In the UK, a paralegal is (broadly speaking) a person isn't legally qualified and who carries out non-advisory (but sometimes client-facing) legal work, but I am getting a sense from this thread that this description doesn't match the nature of US paralegal. Also, there seems to be a bias on this thread towards court-related activity - is this representative?

calumerio, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 08:43 (2 years ago) Permalink

From here: http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=788

As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, a Paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.

As a paralegal I did everything from non-advisory, client facing stuff to transcribing stuff that the attorney dictated to filing things at court, plus a lot of legal research and writing. What you do really depends on where you work.

Polly biscuit face (carl agatha), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 12:27 (2 years ago) Permalink

As a paralegal I did everything from non-advisory, client facing stuff to transcribing stuff that the attorney dictated to filing things at court, plus a lot of legal research and writing. What you do really depends on where you work.

Pretty much my 2000 - 2003.

Sauvignon Blanc Mange (B.L.A.M.), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 13:06 (2 years ago) Permalink

Thank you, carl agatha.

As a paralegal I did everything from non-advisory, client facing stuff to transcribing stuff that the attorney dictated to filing things at court, plus a lot of legal research and writing. What you do really depends on where you work

In the UK, this would be the work of the trainee (post University 2 year training contract mandated by Law Society). In my experience, paralegals tend to do things like residential conveyancing/mortgaging work, company secretarial, that sort of high volume, low value work that firms have to offer to clients but don't necessarily do much of a turn on.

calumerio, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 14:59 (2 years ago) Permalink

Like I said, I work at a very small firm and things are a little quirky here, but my duties are:

Paralegal stuff:
- Writing - motions, affidavits, subpoenas/riders, memos, some discovery, some letters. Tidying up documents. Abstracting depositions.
- Keeping up on certain rules of civil procedure, local court rules, judges' standing orders, agency rules. The attorneys don't like dealing with procedural stuff or mundane rules.
- Filing court papers electronically and in person. Occasionally going to court to present a "routine motion" (which doesn't require an attorney).
- Docketing deadlines, hearings, etc.
- Maintain case document logs.
- Some research. I am going to try to do more.
- Keep clients calm and informed. And paying.

Non-paralegal stuff:
Tons of random stuff. Reception, personal errands for the partners, unjamming the copier, working with tax accountants, fixing iPhones and laptops. I'm the go-to "tech guy" here b/c the IT contractors bill hourly. Walk the office dog.

Pita Malört (Je55e), Tuesday, 1 May 2012 17:32 (2 years ago) Permalink

2 years pass...

So musicfanatic, what did you decide? Mayor jingleberries and other paralegals still at it? Anybody else want to share?

I'm now finally in school getting a post-bacc certficate and it great so far. I'm at a certain well-respected Jesuit-run university with an ABA-approved program that seems to get a lot of love from employers. Teachers are mostly (all?) practicing lawyers and paralegals. I am fighting the urge to beg one of my teachers for a job at her firm. She's great and the firm sounds really functional.

Current job is hard and the workload is crazy but they are allergic to overtime.

Je55e, Monday, 8 September 2014 03:19 (3 months ago) Permalink

My school is expensive. I just read today that Duke University has an online paralegal cert. program that is only $7,000. That seems like it could be good all around. It's online, but it's Duke, so....

Je55e, Monday, 8 September 2014 03:20 (3 months ago) Permalink


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