Are there any paralegals in the building?

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  • 1 Post By LoloDSM
  • 1 Post By Amneris

I am considering pursuing a career as a paralegal and want some perspective. Since I trust the Naturally Curly community more than any ol' wacko who can throw up a website, I figured I'd ask here.

Of course, I'm doing tons of research and have already looked at average salary numbers and the job growth outlook (I'm hoping I can trust the Labor Bureau stats). I've already read some spiel about working long hours and doing grunt work and neither has scared me off.

Paralegals of NC, tell me about your job, both the good and the bad.
How did you get started?
What's your educational background, and did you get a paralegal certificate?
Am I nuts for wanting this job?
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Yes. You are nuts.

It's not the work itself, it's the particular hell of working for 99.9% of lawyers that will make you consider throwing yourself under a bus. Our own LoloDSM here is a sweetheart, but most lawyers are terrible to work for.

Can they shut up about the fact that they're lawyers? No.

Do almost all of them have issues with power and control? Yes.

Will you often wind up doing the same work they do, for a fraction of the fee? Yes.

Will you possibly:

a) overhear (at best) chats with their clients, held while they're on the toilet, or;

b) be asked to take notes outside the bathroom? YES.

Will your co-workers be either suck-ups or lunatics? Yes.

Can you expect to see at least one of those co-workers tape him or herself into his or her own cubicle, the front of which will bear a thousand warning notes to leave her or him alone? Yes.

Will rolodexes (or their handheld equivalents) be stolen? Yes.

Could I go on? Oh, yes. Yessity yes-yes-yes.

You're a writer. Have you considered court reporting? I say, save yourself before it's too late.

(No, I no longer work for lawyers. As for why, see above.)

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Claudine, were you a paralegal?

Creative, to put Claudine's very well thought out response in one sentence: why would you want to do all the work for less than half the pay?

This is what my lawyer friend asked me when I asked her about the job. I didn't look into it any further.
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Aww, thanks, Claudine. :-)

I think being a legal assistant can be a wonderful, challenging, and rewarding career depending on you and who you work for. If you enjoy being part of a team and doing the legwork (but not being the "face") of it, you might really enjoy it.

Some of it is the luck of the draw and who you work for. There are some real *******s out there who are demanding, condescending, procrastinators who will make your life miserable and will wnjoy doing so. I've worked with those people and have seen them go through numerous assistants who can't stand them. If you are good at what you do, though, you will eventually find someone who appreciates you and who will treat you well.

I've been a lawyer for 14 years and when hiring a LA I look for someone who:

- is self-motivated and curious
- responsible
- reliable
- accurate
- cares about their job
- wants to do a good job

Only you know if you can put up with jerks until you find the right person for you. I now work in an insurance company, so my LAs don't work overtime, get annual bonuses and annual raises. HR wouldn't let us treat them badly even if we wanted to which we don't because a good LA is worth her weight in gold.

HTH. Feel free to ask if you have more questions and good luck with your decision!
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KK, yes, I was.

Lolo, in fairness, you're right. I did not stick with the field, and so did not find that "good boss." (Although actually, I did have one who came close, but he died suddenly. I liked him a lot, and his cases were interesting and occasionally hysterical, such as the guy he had to meet at Burger King, because that's where said client's "presidential campaign headquarters" were.)

On the other hand, one of my former bosses is now in federal prison.

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Thanks for the responses Claudine, KurlyKae, and Lolo.

Actually, Claudine what you describe is quite similar to world of journalism: The bad bosses, grunt work, big egos. That never bothered me. But I want to eventually get out of journalism because it doesn't feel authentic to who I am and I think I've given it a good shot.

As far as the "why would you want to do all the work for less than half the pay?" I've had aspirations to become a lawyer for sometime, but all I've heard for the last year is that the job market for lawyers is horrible right now -- too much competition, not enough jobs. I am not in the financial position *right now* to go to law school, but that could very well change. I see being a paralegal as a stepping stone to becoming a lawyer -- is that misguided?

I don't need the glory of being a lawyer. I am fine with doing the leg work and staying behind the scenes. I feel most content when doing research and task-based work, and I've had a pretty strong passion for law for a long time, which was only strengthened in college.

Good call about putting up with jerks though, that's good to know going in so that I can stick it out and not get discouraged.
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Lolo - I thought paralegals and legal assistants were different, though some of their tasks overlap.

CL - you could also check out NALS, a professional organization for legal assistants and paralegals and see if you could do informational interviews.

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I think I'd rather be tied out naked on an ant hil, smeared with honey, than to work for lawyers. (Except for Lolo...she seems OK ).

I've worked for doctors. They're no picnic either.
I don't need the glory of being a lawyer. I am fine with doing the leg work and staying behind the scenes. I feel most content when doing research and task-based work, and I've had a pretty strong passion for law for a long time, which was only strengthened in college.
Originally Posted by creativelicense
You might consider eventually being a lawyer who works for a non-profit or school/college/university. The pay isn't as good, but the work can be rewarding and is often research-based. I work for a group of such lawyers right now and they are almost all really great, passionate people who seem to really enjoy what they do.

This group doesn't hire paralegals, though. They are part of a law school, so there are plenty of law students they can hire for that sort of thing.
I work as a legal assistant now and will never ever do it again.

It takes a special person to put up with lawyers and I am not the one. No. Nope. Nyet.

I've also dated a couple lawyers and they carry their obnoxiousness out of the firm, too.

I am also a writer and there are so many other opportunities that will be better for your sanity. So I say pass sis.

Eta: I have a ba in English and I'm currently working on my masters.
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I've been a paralegal for 20+ years. I have an associates degree.

I would never recommend this work to anyone who wants to get rich. Honestly, the pay sucks IMO...at least in the area I live/work....!

The work itself I enjoy and with the type of law my office handles (criminal law, family law, etc.) it can be pretty entertaining at times.

Also the attorneys I work with now, and the different ones I have worked with over the years, have been awesome for the most part. I've been lucky in that regards.
Vaneda, thanks for the insight. I'm not trying to get rich by any means.

annabananalise, I'd say it also takes a certain type of person to put with writers who have big egos, and I've worked with several.

wild~hair, I'd love to eventually become a lawyer, but that's not in the cards right now. The cost of law school and the job market for lawyers makes going to law school an unwise choice at the moment. Maybe someday that will change.
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I disagree that working for lawyers is by necessity a horrible thing. It just depends on the type of firm and the individual lawyer. I think working in a bigger firm where they do a lot of solicitor work (real estate, wills, contracts etc.) raises the probability that there'll be jerks who will overwork and mistreat you [but there are of course good places to work there too, they just may be harder to find.] Working in a smaller firm or a more public interest or litigation-based firm is in my opinion more likely to be a positive experience.

In terms of the paralegal doing everything a lawyer does, this is not really true, and there are codes of ethics limiting what paralegals can do. They cannot advise clients, appear in court, have the final sign-off on documents, etc. I think again, in a solicitor-focussed practice, it will seem like the paralegal is doing a lot of the lawyer's work because they can prepare and file documents, a lot of the work is repetitive, etc. In a litigation-focussed practice, the paralegal cannot do the bulk of the lawyer's work because they can't go to court or give clients advice.

I think that is the reason I'd be careful if the reason you want to be a paralegal is because ideally you'd be a lawyer and this is the next best thing. I think it would be extremely frustrating to be constantly right next to what you dream of being but can't afford to do, and make less money but feel like you know a lot of what they do, and to be able to do all the grunt work but none of the "good" stuff - and I'm not talking about "getting glory" as a lawyer, but the actual satisfaction of solving peoples' problems and the challenge of appearing before judges. I know for me that's what I love far above making money or getting any glory or status. I think the best paralegals are content with that career path and enjoy a supporting, background role, and I don't know too many lawyers or wanna-be lawyers who are content to stay in the background.

I believe that most lawyers really appreciate and rely on their paralegals so when we have a good one, it's in our interest to retain them and keep them happy, not to mistreat them.

I also agree that I wouldn't go to law school in today's climate unless one of these things and preferably all or most of them are true:

1) you are going to a TOP law school - do NOT even bother with lower-tier schools

2) you are extremely confident that you will be a top student [and basically, you cannot be confident of that until you start and actually are one, given the competition in law school]

3) you have connections to guarantee you a job after you graduate

4) you have the means to survive for a while with no job after you graduate

5) you have a means to pay tuition other than a loan or working or other ways that will sacrifice your grades and/or extra-curriculars [ie. a scholarship or an independent source of wealth]

6) you are open-minded about the type of law you want to practise and not just focussed on one specific and narrow area of practise that may not be available
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Amneris, thank you for the thoughtful and helpful insight!
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I've been a paralegal for a little over eight years now. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
I, for one, have not had a problem working for lawyers, per se. Maybe I've been lucky in that regard, but all of the bad bosses I've had were prior to entering this profession.
However. What I HAVE experienced is that paralegals are often treated like glorified secretaries. Not that theres anything wrong with being a secretary (there's totally not!) but that's not supposed to be the paralegal's role. I'm supposed to be researching cases and statutes, drafting documents and the like, not answering phones and doing clerical work. You know who DOES get to do the things I'm trained to do? Law clerks. Also, at least in my geographical area, there's no distinction made between those who specifically chose the paralegal field and those who started out as secretaries and were 'grandfathered' in as legal assistants with no specific paralegal training. Because they're basically doing the same job. Now that may be specific to my region, and I don't presume to speak for all paralegals everywhere, but in 8+ years, the last time I've performed 'substantive paralegal work' was in college.
I've been a paralegal for a little over eight years now. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
I, for one, have not had a problem working for lawyers, per se. Maybe I've been lucky in that regard, but all of the bad bosses I've had were prior to entering this profession.
However. What I HAVE experienced is that paralegals are often treated like glorified secretaries. Not that theres anything wrong with being a secretary (there's totally not!) but that's not supposed to be the paralegal's role. I'm supposed to be researching cases and statutes, drafting documents and the like, not answering phones and doing clerical work. You know who DOES get to do the things I'm trained to do? Law clerks. Also, at least in my geographical area, there's no distinction made between those who specifically chose the paralegal field and those who started out as secretaries and were 'grandfathered' in as legal assistants with no specific paralegal training. Because they're basically doing the same job. Now that may be specific to my region, and I don't presume to speak for all paralegals everywhere, but in 8+ years, the last time I've performed 'substantive paralegal work' was in college.
Originally Posted by Surlycurly
I agree that paralegals have more substantive duties than legal assistants and that drafting documents is one of those things. I'm not surprised at paralegals not getting to research cases and statutes, though. That's such a crucial and specialized skill, and everything else a lawyer does rises and falls on their research. I know I am most comfortable doing my own, and secondly, having someone else trained as a lawyer doing it. As lawyers, we go to mandatory professional development sessions on updates in case law and legislation, we receive journals, case notes etc. that we subscribe to, and we have years of training and practise in how to read and note up cases that even a really great paralegal simply does not have.

I think that that may be part of the problem - many lawyers have become so specialized in the area that they practise that only they can perform the work to the standard that they expect.

I think paralegals tend to get to do more drafting and so on in real estate or in family law. In other areas, I would think it would be less likely.
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I've been a paralegal for a little over eight years now. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
I, for one, have not had a problem working for lawyers, per se. Maybe I've been lucky in that regard, but all of the bad bosses I've had were prior to entering this profession.
However. What I HAVE experienced is that paralegals are often treated like glorified secretaries. Not that theres anything wrong with being a secretary (there's totally not!) but that's not supposed to be the paralegal's role. I'm supposed to be researching cases and statutes, drafting documents and the like, not answering phones and doing clerical work. You know who DOES get to do the things I'm trained to do? Law clerks. Also, at least in my geographical area, there's no distinction made between those who specifically chose the paralegal field and those who started out as secretaries and were 'grandfathered' in as legal assistants with no specific paralegal training. Because they're basically doing the same job. Now that may be specific to my region, and I don't presume to speak for all paralegals everywhere, but in 8+ years, the last time I've performed 'substantive paralegal work' was in college.
Originally Posted by Surlycurly
I agree that paralegals have more substantive duties than legal assistants and that drafting documents is one of those things. I'm not surprised at paralegals not getting to research cases and statutes, though. That's such a crucial and specialized skill, and everything else a lawyer does rises and falls on their research. I know I am most comfortable doing my own, and secondly, having someone else trained as a lawyer doing it. As lawyers, we go to mandatory professional development sessions on updates in case law and legislation, we receive journals, case notes etc. that we subscribe to, and we have years of training and practise in how to read and note up cases that even a really great paralegal simply does not have.

I think that that may be part of the problem - many lawyers have become so specialized in the area that they practise that only they can perform the work to the standard that they expect.

I think paralegals tend to get to do more drafting and so on in real estate or in family law. In other areas, I would think it would be less likely.
Originally Posted by Amneris
I get what you're saying and even agree to some extent. I know that I don't really like to 'trust', as it were, someone else to do work that's going to be attached to my name, so I can understand why an attorney wouldn't want that either. But isn't that the point of having or utilizing a paralegal? If the attorney is going to do their own research and document drafting, why have any paralegals at all?

I think that part of the issue is that paralegals are not considered professionals (or even 'para' professionals, despite the name of the occupation). Therefore, while there are professional agencies that a paralegal CAN join, it's not mandatory. There are certification exams that a paralegal CAN take, but they're not mandatory. And there's no actual licensing of the paralegal profession. So sometimes you get someone who is calling themselves a paralegal, but has no post-secondary training in that field at all, just what they've picked up by answering the phones for a lawyer for a few years. So, as an attorney, how are you supposed to know or trust that this person is actually competent to handle the tasks set before them? As a result, a lot of attorneys (again, in my experience) do just rely on their paralegals to handle clerical issues.

I liken it to a doctor who expects his nurse to handle insurance and billing issues rather than clinical work (obviously that's a very simplified analogy, as there are HUGE differences between the paralegal profession and the nursing profession). The training is being completely wasted.

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