5 Great Blogs for Paralegals

 

Legal Blogs Great for Paralegals

  • The Estrin Report
  • Law Actually
  • Lawyerist
  • Digital Paralegal Services
  • The Paralegal Society

For those working as or even aspiring to become a paralegal, blogs for paralegals can be an amazingly beneficial resource to tap into. From industry veterans to educational scholars, many of these blogs’ authors are a source to truly be valued. Having researched quite a bit on the topic, we’ve found five blogs that are perfectly curtailed to those in the paralegal field.

1. The Estrin Report

The Estrin Report is a great, all-around, informational resource for paralegals. Not focusing on any particular area of the field, its focus is broad and covers many topics. Readers can find information regarding paralegal certification and education, office politics, records processing, and all other things with regard to working as a paralegal.

The Estrin Report is maintained by legal guru, Cher Estrin. Estrin is a chairperson, CEO, and editor-in-chief for OLP.org, KNOW Magazine, and the Paralegal Knowledge Institute, respectively. With this said, her voice is one of great insight. A side of the charm is also instilled in the blog’s style through Estrin’s witty and sometimes sarcastic writing style.

2. Law Actually

Law Actually is a great blog for paralegals. It is another example of a broad-based, any-topic-covered paralegal blog. This popular choice is consistent with postings and is seldom a boring read. Topics range from legal strategy and court psychology, all the way to social media uses and grammatical correctness in written correspondence.

Another popular draw to this blog is the relative ease with which the visitor can communicate with the blog’s author. The blog is authored by an experienced attorney and blogger.

3. Lawyerist

Of all of the blogs researched for this list, Lawyerist is the most personal and psychology-focused offering in the group. Readers here are treated to topics that are more in tune with personal conduct, philosophy, self-betterment, and things more of a seemingly personal nature. Some recently covered topics of the popular blog have included client negotiation tactics, personal writing skills, and enhancing creative problem-solving skills. The layout, categorization, and ease of navigation are also a great benefit to those perusing the volumes here.

4. Digital Paralegal Services

Rather than providing a wide range of topics, this blog sticks to the aspects of technological involvement in today’s legal work. Although not posting as regularly as some of the others on this list, the Digital Paralegal Services Blog is quite popular and valuable to those most concerned with this modernization aspect of working in the legal system.

5. The Paralegal Society

The Paralegal Society defines itself well, stating that it is “a forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals to engage in the pursuit of excellence for all paralegal kind.” As so described, this particular blog has become increasingly valued in the world of blogs for paralegals. Information contained therein is wide-ranging, valuable, and always directly pertinent to the field of paralegal work.

This blog is also quite interactive, giving readers a chance to post their own thoughts on articles as well as contact the authors directly. These authors include a myriad of seasoned veterans in addition to site founder and legal expert, Jamie Collins. In addition, for more off-the-cuff ramblings on paralegal thinking, the section entitled “The ‘Rant’” is particularly insightful and entertaining.

For practicing and up-and-coming paralegals alike, these blogs represent a plethora of readily available resources. Today’s professionals are fortunate to have such commodities afforded by our modern world. For more on today’s best blogs for paralegals, as well as for all other authoritative resources on the subject, the American Association for Paralegal Education is a great place to direct additional inquiry.

Things All Attorneys Expect from Paralegals

Duties You Can Expect to Perform as a Paralegal

When I became a paralegal in 1984, it was very common for paralegals to sit at their desks all day with their headphones on and type a variety of documents such as motions, pleadings, and correspondence, dictated by an attorney via the Dictaphone.  The role of the paralegal has since evolved from secretarial typists or transcribers to highly qualified staff members who perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Since the paralegal profession has evolved to include more substantive legal work, those wishing to become a paralegal usually seek formal training to gain the legal knowledge necessary to work alongside an attorney.  But in order to really excel in the paralegal profession, there are several characteristics and skills that are important to possess and develop in addition to legal knowledge.   After working as a paralegal, I went to law school and became an attorney and employer of paralegals, so I’ve seen first-hand the characteristics and skills that make a paralegal exceptional.  Here are 5 things that every attorney expects from his or her paralegal:

1.  Punctuality & Attendance

Attorneys’ expectations are often very simple – be present and on time.  Should any extreme circumstances arise that cause one to be absent or late, you must call and let your attorney know?  Being late can wreak havoc on an attorney if they need you to be in the office.  When I was an attorney, I recall one time I was in court and needed some information; however, much to my dismay and frustration, calling my office every five minutes didn’t make my paralegal magically appear at her desk.

Attendance and punctuality are some of the simplest yet most important things a paralegal can achieve in a job. Punctual paralegals with outstanding attendance are indispensable to an attorney.paralegals with communication and organization skills

2.  Communication Skills

Paralegals need to be good communicators, constantly developing both their written and verbal skills.  Writing skills are vital to a paralegal’s success.  When writing petitions, briefs, and even business letters, paralegals must be able to write properly structured sentences and utilize correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  It is imperative that paralegals proofread their work, use spell check, check for grammatical errors, and focus on proper writing techniques.

Excellent verbal skills will also help a paralegal communicate effectively, and will cut down on misunderstandings and increase a paralegal’s productivity.  Upon receipt of work instructions from an attorney, paralegals who are effective communicators will ask questions and seek clarification on their work assignments.

Not only is it important for paralegals to communicate well with their attorneys, but let’s not forget about the clients. Paralegals can assist their attorneys by mastering the kind of communication that clients appreciate, answering and making phone calls, sending copies of documents, and answering emails.

3.  Language Skills

Attorneys expect paralegals to know general legal terms that are commonly used, such as depositions, interrogatories, and requests for admissions in all areas of law.  The legal profession is full of written materials which require paralegals to continuously expand their vocabulary.  A dictionary can be advantageous to a paralegal in learning to master both the English language and the language of law.

4.  Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are paramount to being an effective paralegal.  They facilitate a paralegal’s ability to create and manage calendar systems, track court dates, and meet filing deadlines.  Additionally, legal research materials, such as case law, must be organized in a method that they can be easily navigated and retrieved.  Documents in a legal case are useless unless they are properly filed and indexed so the documents may be pulled quickly and easily at any time.

5.  Technology skills

Today’s most sought-after paralegal skills are technology skills.  Employers do not want to teach you how to use a computer.  It is expected that a paralegal will know how to operate and navigate a computer and legal software proficiently.  In addition, litigation support and e-filing are becoming commonplace in the legal field.  It’s important during your paralegal training and on the job to learn to use various paperless court filing systems and be able to successfully file and manage documents online.

What is a Paralegal? Job Description, Careers, Training Requirements

It takes more than just legal knowledge to be an excellent paralegal.  It takes hands-on skills and an organized and reliable personality.  Many of the skills listed above can be developed and worked on during your paralegal education.  Are you interested in developing your paralegal skills at the Center for Advanced Legal Studies?  We’re here to give you a competitive paralegal education complete with job-ready skills, and we’re committed to our student’s success.

What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal

Choosing your profession can feel like one of the most crucial decisions you will make. It’s understandable to second-guess yourself. Shows like Law and OrderHow to Get Away with Murder or Better Call Saul may have piqued your interest in the legal realm, but is that interest enough to fuel a career?

Of all the potential courtroom jobs out there, a paralegal career is one of the fastest tracks you can take to your first day on the job. But the time it takes to gain the proper knowledge and training is still an investment. You want to be sure that it’s worth your time.

Take a moment to learn some of the gritty details of working as a paralegal—from the mouths of paralegals and the lawyers who hire them. Use this expert insight to help you make an informed decision.

But first, let’s cover the basics…

What does a paralegal do?

Benefits of Becoming a Paralegal | USF Corporate Training and Professional  Education

You’ve likely done some research on your own, but it’s always beneficial to have all of your information in one place. What does a paralegal do? Basically, they help their attorneys keep things organized and running smoothly by doing important legal legwork.

Those duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can include assisting attorneys during trials, organizing case files, preparing trial notes, performing legal research, preparing legal briefs and sometimes conducting client and witness interviews.1

“Most paralegal jobs require paralegals to work on contracts, real estate, civil lawsuits and other legal needs,” says Kirk Olson, a lawyer and instructor at Rasmussen University. “One case may require multiple areas of law. For instance, a divorce often requires a paralegal to obtain and review real estate, pension, insurance, business and estate planning documents, not just child custody studies.”

Paralegals are generally detail oriented, organized and efficient. Because duties can vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorneys, they must also be adaptable.

How to become a paralegal

One of the most common concerns for anyone looking into starting in this field is the amount of education needed—as well as how long it takes to become a paralegal. The path to becoming a paralegal can look very different from one person to the next.

But the BLS states that the most common educational path that leads to work as a paralegal is an Associate’s degree, which can be completed in as a few as 18 months.1,2 That said, if you’ve already earned a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you’ll need on the job without requiring more years of schooling—in fact, this Certificate program can be completed in as few as 8 months.2

What to expect from the Paralegal Certificate program

This program is designed to supplement education from a different field. If you already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any area, a Paralegal Certificate program can give you the legal basics a paralegal needs to know while building upon the foundation of general education courses you’ve already completed.

In this kind of paralegal program, you’ll take courses like Introduction to Legal Research, Legal Writing and Law Office Management. Ethical communication, interdisciplinary awareness and emerging technology are important objectives of this program.

What to expect from a Paralegal Associate’s degree program

Paralegal Associate’s degree program will give you an essential basis for work as a paralegal (as well as other careers) with foundational classes in English composition, math and the humanities. But the bulk of your studies will focus on skill and knowledge areas specific to the legal world and the paralegal duties within it.

Courses like Torts, Contracts and Family Law zoom in on complex subjects in the legal realm, while other courses such as Computer Applications and Business Systems Concepts, Legal Writing and Legal Research help you build the critical skill sets paralegals need.

A Paralegal degree will provide you with the skills needed to succeed in the field, but there will be a host of things you won’t learn until you’re on the job. For some additional insights, we asked paralegal professionals to share the things they wish they’d known before starting their careers.

What is a paralegal career like?

Third-party litigation funding | Canadian Lawyer

“You will work hard and long hours, but it’s worth it,” says paralegal and Rasmussen University Justice Studies instructor Julia Gordon. Gordon explains that paralegals carry a lot of weight on their shoulders and every detail matters.

“There is no room for error in tracking deadlines and working with court scheduling,” says Kevin Queenan of The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. “Mentoring legal assistants, I hear the same issue every time: I did not know you meant that detail oriented!” Queenan emphasizes that miniscule mistakes can have big consequences in the legal world. Having a bad day won’t cut it as an excuse if your mistake costs the firm a case, or worse, accusations of malpractice.

Yet, Queenan points out, people with the right personality can flourish in this position. Paralegals can take jobs with varied daily tasks and experiences if that is what they are looking for. “In a general civil practice … the legal assistant may be answering discovery [requests] one day and driving out to meet a new client the next day.”

“For those who like more structure or repetition, there are law practices involving cookie-cutter lawsuits and issues. I talked to a legal assistant yesterday, and her last position involved filing 1,000 credit card lawsuits per month,” Queenan explains.

“Don’t go into the job with rose-colored glasses,” Gordon says. You might picture working in an office full of driven individuals who want to help their clients fix injustices. But unfortunately, it isn’t always like that.

“Not all attorneys are nice, and not all attorneys are ethical,” Gordon says. “Be aware of your ethical rules and guidelines and never compromise your integrity. Nothing is worth losing your self-respect over. You have your clients’ lives in your hands. Treat the position with the highest reverence.”

What is the average paralegal salary?

While not every aspect of a paralegal’s work is considered glamorous, that’s really no different from most jobs. After all, there’s a reason you get paid to work. But is that pay enough to support you and your responsibilities? That’s up to you to decide.

The median annual paralegal salary in 2018 was $50,940, according to the BLS.2 That’s $12,300 more than the national average of $38,640 for all occupations.2 This is pretty encouraging for a job that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or hazardous working conditions.

Which paralegal skills matter most?

In this legal career, certain personalities and particular skill sets are better poised for success than others. If you are considering work as a paralegal, make sure you fit the bill by the time you apply.

“An effective [paralegal] must be computer savvy,” Queenan says. She adds that good legal assistants don’t overreact under pressure, are highly organized and care about the small details.

“Being kind and helpful is a good start,” Olson says. But Olson emphasizes that helpfulness won’t land you the job. “Lawyers hire paralegals because a good paralegal will find flaws in documents and assist with billing and other detailed functions that keep a law office working. A good paralegal is a ‘deadline cop’ who keeps the law firm on track.”

Olson says paralegals are expected to catch errors made by others and remind everyone of important dates. “Finding and warning of a deadline that others missed may prevent a loss of a client’s case and may save a $10,000 deductible in a lawyer’s malpractice claim,” Olson adds.

All that detail checking includes spelling and grammar. Olson says paralegals correct citation mistakes, grammar errors and other inaccuracies. Fine-tuning your writing and editing abilities is vital for success as a paralegal—that, as well as technical proficiency.

“A person considering becoming a legal assistant should take the highest level of available training on Word, WordPerfect and Westlaw,” Queenan says. “A technologically proficient [paralegal] will wow their lawyers more often and command a higher salary and raises.”

How to stand out as a paralegal

If you are mentally checking off some of those skill boxes—that’s a great sign. While detail-oriented professionals with strong writing and computer skills are important in this profession, there are ways to stand out even more.

Queenan recommends seeking training in client interactions, etiquette and communication skills since presenting a professional image to clients is incredibly important. Pay close attention to verbal slip-ups—no one wants to hear their legal help sounding careless. You want to make sure you are representing yourself, your clients and, ultimately, your practice as best as you can. This includes being able to communicate in a professional manner.

Additionally, Queenan suggests learning more about research materials on the internet. “We are suing a major manufacturer, and my legal assistant found several articles that were helpful to our lack of warning claims. The information was free!”

Olson suggests asking for examples of finished case files when you take work as a paralegal to see samples of what completed and professional work looks like for that firm. “And be assertive. If something does not look right, insist that it be explained or fixed.”

Are you cut out to become a paralegal?

Paralegals play an integral role in a firm’s success. Every document filed, every interview conducted and every ounce of collected research matters.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to work in the exciting legal world you’re used to seeing on TV, the paralegal profession may be the perfect career choice for you. Not only can it help you pay the bills, but it will challenge you intellectually and provide you with valuable professional experience to reach your long-term career goals.

Top Five Skills to Look for When Hiring a Paralegal

An indispensable paralegal has an ability to multitask, strong attention to detail, a willingness to learn, expertise in organization, and psychic abilities.

What is a paralegal and when might you use one? | Business Law Donut

According to NALA: The Paralegal Association’s Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegals,

Paralegals are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, paralegals have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.

If you are a litigation attorney who has never utilized the assistance of a paralegal, here are the top five things you should look for when hiring a paralegal.

The Wisdom Of WSIB Fluent Paralegals - Goodman Elbassiouni LLP

  1. Ability to multitask. Litigation can move at an extremely fast and unpredictable pace. It is very important for your litigation paralegal to possess the ability to pivot and move on to a new task at the drop of a hat and be able to maintain accuracy throughout daily tasks even with that shift in focus.
  2. Strong attention to detail. The paralegal is often the last person to provide feedback on any documents being submitted to the court, client, opposing parties, or opposing counsel. Having an eye for catching even the smallest spelling, grammar, or formatting mistakes is a great quality in a paralegal. It is also important for the paralegal to pick out details of anything coming into the firm such as deadlines and reminders that need to be calendared and follow-up tasks that need to be completed.
  3. Willingness to learn. Most state bars require continuing legal education for attorneys as the legal world is always evolving. A paralegal’s willingness to continue their education and the attorney’s acceptance of providing the time and means for their paralegal to continue their education is imperative. Local and statewide paralegal associations are great ways for paralegals to get the education and support they need to continue growing in the legal field.
  4. Expertise in the organization. It is the paralegal’s duty to maintain the litigation files. Whether you work with paper or electronic files, there should be no question that anyone who picks up that file looking for a specific item should be able to find that item with ease and without asking where the item is.
  5. Psychic abilities. That might be slightly facetious, but a litigation paralegal should know the case to the extent they can anticipate issues that may arise and already have in place a plan to mitigate the issues. This also relates to tasks the attorney can have the paralegal handle. A paralegal that knows a mediation statement needs to be done and gets a draft of the statement to the attorney before the attorney has to ask for it is indispensable to that attorney.

4 Key Roles for Paralegals in Trial Prep | Business of Law Blog

5 Most Important Paralegal Traits

8 traits of a methodical paralegal (and why you should be one) - One Legal

Can we just choose five traits as the most important paralegal traits that you must possess to succeed in a paralegal career? In my opinion, the answer is “no.” The paralegal profession has grown and expanded over the last few decades to encompass so many different positions and roles that it would be impossible to choose just five traits as the most important traits you need to have in order to be a successful paralegal. Furthermore, paralegals now work in numerous related fields that go far beyond a law firm. Therefore, the skills and paralegal traits a person needs to succeed depends more on the type of job, the industry, and the paralegal’s role than the standard definition of a “good paralegal.”

What is a Paralegal?

Top 8 Skills of Successful Paralegals | Fremont College

Before we can choose traits that define a “good paralegal,” we need to understand the definition of a paralegal. Two of the most commonly used definitions of a paralegal come from the National Association of Paralegals (NALA) and the American Bar Association (ABA). Both definitions are extremely similar.

NALA: “Legal assistants (also known as paralegals) are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law, which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.”

ABA: “A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training, or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

Both definitions require a paralegal to have the training, education, and experience in order to perform their duties as a paralegal. Neither of these definitions explains what traits or characteristics make a paralegal successful. However, a simple internet search reveals hundreds of articles claiming to explain the traits and characteristics required to be a paralegal. In theory, paralegals possessing these traits or characteristics will be successful in their chosen careers. However, further examination of these traits reveals that most of them are really skills rather than traits or characteristics.

Some of the most common “traits or characteristics” listed in articles related to this topic include:

  • Highly organized (this is on 99% of the lists you’ll find)
  • Good communication skills (another popular “trait or characteristic” associated with paralegals)
  • Excellent research and writing skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Good computer skills
  • Pays close attention to detail
  • Works well independently
  • Works well under pressure
  • Maintains a professional attitude

When I look back through these “traits and characteristics,” I notice that all of them are skills that a person can develop or grow if they have the desire. You can take courses to learn and enhance your research, writing, and computer skills and there are numerous seminars that teach you how to be more professional, handle pressure, become more organized, and be more attentive to detail.

Yes, some paralegals will have a greater natural aptitude in some of these areas, and, yes, that probably does give those paralegals an edge on those of us who need to develop our skills.

5 Personality Traits of a Great Paralegal

Let’s go beyond the “canned” list of skills or traits that make a great paralegal and do a deep dive – what actually helps someone excel in the paralegal field?

I thought back through the many paralegals I have had hired (and fired) and those I’ve had the privilege to work with over the past 26 years. I found five personality traits that each of the paralegals who rose to the top of their profession had in common.

Good Judgment

Will Rogers said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” I believe this is true (I have learned many lessons from the bad decisions I have made during my career). I also believe that some people have a stronger ability to make good judgments because of their other personality traits discussed below (i.e. patience and logic) just as good judgment enhances other qualities of a great paralegal (i.e. ingenuity and persistence).

How Do We Define “Good Judgment?”  First, we must look at the definition of “judgment.” MacMillan defines judgment as “your ability to understand a situation well and make good decisions.” Merriam-Webster expands the definition of judgment to “the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought.”

When you break down those definitions and apply them to a paralegal, you can see that having good judgment is essential if you are to be a great paralegal.  Unfortunately, there is not a class on “using good judgment” that I am aware of that truly helps an individual comprehend when and how to use good judgment. A professor or coach can give you tips and examples of when and how to use good judgment. However, you either have the ability to make good judgments or you learn it through your mistakes (if you are humble enough to learn from those mistakes).

Going back to the definition of “judgment,” a great paralegal has the “ability to understand” a problem or situation and decide whether to involve the attorney or move forward independently. A great paralegal also understands the process and time involved in “forming an opinion or making a decision” only after careful thought and research. Paralegals who rush to a conclusion simply to finish the task or impress their boss often make poor or rash decisions that adversely affect the client and the attorney.

Let’s consider the following real-life example. A family law client was in a highly contested custody dispute. Both parents were pulling out all stops and slinging, in some cases manufacturing, as much mud at each other as possible to win custody. Our client confided in one of our paralegals that she had an affair years ago right after the couple was married. The client begged the paralegal not to tell anyone because it only happed once and it was a terrible mistake that caused him great embarrassment. The paralegal felt sorry for the client and used her own judgment to reason that the affair occurred roughly 22 years ago. If the spouse were going to find out about the affair, she would have done so by now so the paralegal never divulged this information to anyone until after the final hearing.

In this case, the paralegal’s assumptions were correct and the affair never did come up in the court proceedings. Did the paralegal use good judgment? Absolutely not. Paralegals are not attorneys – we do not have law degrees nor are we licensed to practice law. We support the attorney as they practice law in the representation of a client. As a paralegal we receive thousands of pieces of information that we must process. Some goes to the attorney but some does not. This paralegal didn’t use good judgment in this decision and that was a hard lesson to learn.

Ingenuity

Paralegal Program – Voices – the Blogs of InverHills.edu

Arlen Specter: “If you are going to have to play defense all the time, you cannot have the kind of ingenuity, assertiveness, independence, and intelligence which is what has made our country strong.

Okay, you’re wondering what I believe this has to do with being a great paralegal. When we look at the definition of “ingenuity” it gives a clearer picture.

Merriam-Webster defines ingenuity as “the quality of being clever, original, and inventive.”

Another word for ingenuity – resourceful. Great paralegals are resourceful and innovative. In other words, they play offense by having the “ingenuity, assertiveness, independence, and intelligence” to tackle issues and problems before being told to do so by an attorney. If you see something that needs to be done, be assertive and independent enough to tackle the problem before the quarterback hands you the ball.

Ingenuity goes a few steps further than simply grabbing the ball. Once you have the ball, run with it. Be resourceful and inventive when searching for solutions to the problem. If you can’t find a solution, use your other skills to develop a solution of you own to present to the attorney. However, use your good judgment to know when to stop running down the field and reset with the quarterback (attorney) to confirm the play is legal.

I hate to use tired, old clichés but great paralegals do think “outside of the box” rather than accept what is presented to them. This ability ties directly into the personality traits for being logical and having persistence.

Logic

Macmillan defines logic as  connecting ideas or reasons in a sensible way.”  However, Albert Einstein said, ” Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

When we view the definition of logical in the light of Einstein’s quote, we conclude that a great paralegal can start at “A” and arrive at “B” using reason and careful thought. However, along the way the paralegal must use good judgment to avoid mistakes and may need some ingenuity to make “B” the outcome that the client and attorney desire.

Paralegals must deal with the abstract, complex, and ambiguous elements of the law. A great paralegal must be able to think logically and analytically to identify and evaluate key concepts and facts related to a specific case. This personality trait also enhances the paralegal’s ability to communicate facts and conclusions in a clear, concise manner to the attorney — a skill that is at the very core of being a great paralegal.

Again, paralegal courses and other educational or coaching courses can help a person develop their logic and reasoning skills. There are undoubtedly some paralegals with a natural “Sherlock Holmes” personality trait that makes them extremely analytical and logical. A paralegal who is able to use logic to carefully analyze the case, remove the irrelevant factors, and concentrate on what is truly important is an asset to the firm. In the words of Holmes, “Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”

Persistence

Merriam-Webster defines persistence as ” the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, ” It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Both of the above quotes relate to a paralegal’s ability to be persistent. Some people give up when they run into an obstacle (i.e. the dark). They refuse to continue to search for a key (i.e. the solution) because it’s too difficult. A great person will light another candle, and another candle, and ten more candles until there is sufficient light to locate the key. If the candles don’t work, they’ll try something else rather than give up.

It would be wonderful if everything had a quick “fix” so we could make it off our to-do list for the day. Clients would be thrilled if we could settle their cases in a day or two rather than a year or two. Paralegals who are always searching for the easy, quick way to handle a case or a problem often quit when things get really tough.

On the other hand, great paralegals keep going regardless of how tough it may seem right then. They don’t  “curse the darkness” because they are too busy lighting more candles to keep moving forward instead of standing still or retreating. Quitting is not in the vocabulary of a great paralegal who is persistent. If all else fails, a great paralegal will draw on their personality characteristics of logic and ingenuity to find other ways to solve the problem.

Persistence also breeds consistency and commitment. A great paralegal is one who is committed to the law firm, the attorney, and the client instead of being committed to the job. The job is what we do because we need to earn a living. A great paralegal consistently goes beyond the “job description” to make things happen while using good judgment to know when to involve the attorney or a supervisor.

Patience

Able to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people” is how Merriam-Webster defines “patient.” This is one of my biggest character flaws — I am highly impatient. People get on my nerves in general but difficult people are the worst.

As a paralegal, you will always deal with difficult people and their problems. That’s your job. From your attorney and other attorneys to your client, experts, witnesses, co-workers, and others (the list goes on forever), you will be dealing with difficult people. Think of how your own problems can drive you to lose your patience. Now imagine dealing with a client’s problems and the client is demanding and difficult. It’s easy to lose your patience but a great paralegal has the patience of Job.

Joyce Meyer said,  Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” A paralegal who is patient doesn’t sit around waiting for a miracle to fall in their lap nor do they curse the problem. Job was patient but he did not curse what happened to him nor did he simply give up. A great paralegal will rely on their other skills and traits to continue working toward the ultimate goal. If they must be patient while waiting on the court to move or opposing counsel to make their move, they will do so while still working the case from other angles.  You can be patient without being angry or still.

Am I a Great Paralegal?

The Paralegal Job Interview: Top 7 Behavioral Based Interview Questions and  How to Answer Them -

I admit that I saved the personality trait of patience until the end because I lack this personality trait. Even after 26 years of working with attorneys and clients, I still am not a patient person. I’m thankful I don’t use a video phone because the look on my face, the words I’m mouthing, my fingers strumming on my desk, and the stress-relieving ball I am hurling through my office are all strong indicators that I’m losing my patience with the person on the other line.

With that said, I’ve learned to control my reactions to others but I doubt that I’ll ever master being patient. Does that mean I’m not a great paralegal? Absolutely not. In fact, if you don’t have any of the above personality traits, you can still be a great paralegal. The wonderful thing about being human is that we can all learn and grow. It may be more difficult for some of us than others in some areas (I doubt I’ll overcome being impatient) but it can be done.

The other thing I ask you to remember is that the above personality traits aren’t required for every paralegal position. They’re general traits I have noticed as I worked with other paralegals for almost three decades now (oh that makes me sound ancient). The term “great paralegal” can and does apply to paralegals who are committed to their job and who have a love for what they do each day regardless of whether they have any of the above traits (my list or the other list).

However, attorneys will be attorneys and they love paralegals with these traits, skills, and characteristics. They’ll consequently look for paralegals who display these types of skills and personality traits. Learning coping skills to tame my problem with patience improved my efficiency and quality of work, which helped me obtain my position as project manager.

The real trick to becoming a great paralegal is, to be honest enough with yourself to identify the areas where you need to improve. Take those necessary steps – that is a true sign of a great paralegal.

What a Paralegal Does and How to Become One

Portrait of a businessman reading a book

A job as a paralegal might be ideal for those who appreciate the intricacy of the U.S. legal system and are eager to provide assistance to lawyers. Experts on this profession say it can be a fulfilling occupation for individuals who are detail-oriented and enjoy writing.

Reading comprehension and written communication are critical skills to cultivate for success as a paralegal, says Margaret Phillips, an attorney who is director and associate professor of paralegal studies at Daemen College in New York.

“The very best thing to do is to read and write as much as you can,” Phillips wrote in an email. “Of course, it is helpful to know legal vocabulary and how the legal system works, but that type of knowledge can be acquired in a paralegal studies program. It is much harder to make up for shortcomings in reading and writing abilities, and those abilities form the foundation for learning and performing legal work.”

Thomas E. McClure, director of legal studies and associate professor at Illinois State University, notes that precision is important in the paralegal field, since the occupation is highly technical.

“So, if you’re a broad brush type person, it’s probably not the profession for you, because it’s a lot of detail work, and attention to detail is extremely important,” he says.

Paralegals do a significant amount of writing, so someone who is more confident in their public speaking abilities than their writing skills might prefer a different occupation, says McClure, who also chairs the American Bar Association’s commission that approves paralegal programs.

Paralegal Salaries and Employment Rates

How to Become a Paralegal in California and Excel at Your Career

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was $50,940 in May 2018. The bureau predicts that employment in these types of jobs will increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028, which is significantly higher than the average projected job growth rate of 5% for all U.S. occupations.

Rising demand for paralegals is a longstanding trend since law firms are now asking paralegals to do work that previously would have been assigned to lawyers, Phillips says.

“Since the recession, law offices have looked to become more competitive and efficient, which has sometimes meant shifting who does what on the legal team,” she says. “The forecast for paralegals has been pretty strong since that time.”

The number of requests Phillips gets from employers who want to hire paralegals eclipses the number of job-seeking students and graduates of her paralegal program, she says.

Plus, nonlegal employers such as banks and insurance companies are often interested in hiring individuals with paralegal degrees “because they understand the value of legal training,” she says.

Phillips suggests that as the number of paralegal programs has increased, employers have grown more appreciative of the ways that a paralegal can contribute to a workplace.

Debra R. Geiger, president of the American Association for Paralegal Education and head of the paralegal studies department at Savannah Technical College in Georgia, notes increasing demand for paralegals with legally pertinent tech skills.

“This includes client file security, electronic filing in cases, digital forensics, and electronic evidence discovery and preservation,” Geiger, who is an attorney, wrote in an email. “Some of the most lucrative jobs are in this field.”

Gaye Weintraub, a Texas-based former paralegal who currently works as a college and career coach, says she loved her work as a paralegal.

“I knew a paralegal profession would be perfect for me because I enjoy everything having to do with the law,” she wrote in an email. “I would say someone who wants to become a paralegal should love the law a great deal.”

How to Become a Paralegal

What Does a Paralegal Do?

According to McClure, there are three types of academic credentials that someone can use to enter the paralegal profession: associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or post-baccalaureate certificates. It typically takes two years to get an associate degree in paralegal studies and about twice as long to earn a bachelor’s degree in the discipline, McClure says.

Postbaccalaureate certificates are an option only for college graduates and can be earned within one year, he adds.

Future paralegals have the flexibility to choose what type of credential is most suitable, Geiger notes.

“One advantage of the paralegal profession is that a lot of jobs are available for those who only choose to pursue a two-year degree, quite often at a community college, where the cost of an education is relatively inexpensive,” she says. “While some of the top-paying positions require a four-year degree, one can make a good living as a paralegal with a two-year degree.”

How a Paralegal’s Job Differs From a Lawyer’s

A paralegal’s responsibilities vary depending on how much work is delegated to him or her by the attorney for whom he or she works. However, in general, a paralegal will write correspondence and documents that a supervising attorney can look over, modify if necessary and sign off on.

Paralegals are often responsible for organizing and updating files on various legal clients and may work to obtain affidavits and other formal statements that can be submitted as evidence in court cases. They may also handle scheduling for a legal office and act as a liaison between lawyers and their clients, as well as track deadlines and ensure that they are met.

Bita Goldman, the global general counsel for Unidays Inc. – a mobile application that allows students to discover and reap savings from various brands – has hired and worked with paralegals throughout her career and wrote in an email that paralegals “are the operational brain unit of the legal department. They support attorneys by doing legal research, preparing briefs, and organizing everything needed for trials.”

Nevertheless, there are limitations on what a paralegal can do within the legal profession since paralegals are not lawyers and are not licensed to practice law.

“There are a few things that paralegals can’t do that only lawyers can do … Paralegals cannot represent clients in court or in depositions,” McClure says. “Only a lawyer can be the advocate in that setting. Paralegals cannot enter into representation agreements or set fees with clients. Only lawyers can do that. And most importantly, a paralegal cannot give legal advice. Only lawyers can. Now what paralegals do is they can have contact with the clients and they can gather information, but they can’t give opinions.”

Another key distinction between paralegals and lawyers is that lawyers have more decision-making authority and more leeway to use their individual discretion, McClure says.

How a Paralegal Program Differs From Law School

Paralegal education is not ordinarily as academically demanding as law school since, unlike most J.D. programs, paralegal programs don’t typically feature make-or-break final exams, McClure notes.

Another important distinction, he explains, is that law school courses are often taught using the Socratic Method. That style of teaching involves asking a series of rhetorical questions and requiring students to figure out the answers, a method of training them on how to identify a solution to a legal problem.

Unlike Socratic law classes, McClure explains, paralegal courses are taught using a conventional lecture style.

“There’s a big difference and even if instructors are particularly difficult in paralegal education, they usually are not nearly as stringent as law school professors are,” McClure says. “When I teach a (paralegal) course that’s a tough course, I always say that it’s law school lite, because it’s nowhere close to what law school is.”

McClure says paralegal programs typically include the following four required core classes: an overview of the law, legal research, legal writing and litigation.

Paralegal students often have the opportunity to take elective classes that focus on specific areas of the law, he adds, such as family law, criminal law, intellectual property law, real estate law and contracts law.

Paralegal programs also typically offer classes on torts law, business law, property law, bankruptcy law and the law of wills, trusts and probates, Geiger explains. Paralegal students also learn about civil litigation rules and procedures and electronic legal research, she says.

“Most programs have a course on law office technology, so students are ready for work upon graduation,” Geiger adds.

Phillips notes that paralegal programs typically teach “the nitty-gritty of how the legal system works” in civil and criminal cases at the state and federal levels. The programs also provide lessons on “how to find applicable law to solve a problem” and “how to apply the law to a problem,” she says.

Paralegal students learn how to craft legal documents like complaints, motions and memos, Phillips notes, as well as “the skills necessary to work on a legal team, which include writing skills, investigation and interviewing skills, professionalism or ‘soft’ skills, and technology skills.”

Phillips emphasizes that paralegal education is less focused than law school on legal theory.

“As opposed to the general academic approach of law school, paralegal education is specifically aimed at developing practical, substantive skills, such as applying the law to produce legal documents like pleadings, memos, legal correspondence, and legal memos,” she says.

“Paralegal students are typically well-versed in the practical application of the law, legal vocabulary, how the legal system works, and the written products produced by different types of law offices. Any type of paralegal degree can lead to a student being extremely well-prepared for law school.”

Paralegal education is designed to ensure that every student is prepared to excel in a paralegal position once they graduate, experts say.

“Students study a broad-based curriculum with a primary focus on developing practical skills, as well as learning core legal concepts,” Geiger says. “For example, in Family Law they learn the basic legal concepts but also learn how to do every aspect of a divorce case including client interviews, drafting documents, including pleadings, discovery, separation agreements, and divorce decrees. They also assist clients with preparing financial declarations and running preliminary child support calculations.”

How to Choose a Paralegal Program

One key sign of a quality paralegal program is if it is approved by the American Bar Association. Another important factor to consider is a program’s job placement rate.

“If most of the program’s graduates are obtaining legal jobs, then it is a good sign that the program has appropriately tailored its curriculum to the local legal needs,” Phillips says. “Although nationally employers may place a high value on four-year degrees, depending on the needs in your geographic area you may find there are high-quality and effective associate degree programs with high placement rates.”

Contact us for more information.

 

11 Reasons that Investing in Paralegal Training Can Boost Your Firm

A leader is only as good as their team. And a team is a reflection of its leader. These two units work together to create success.

Running A Successful Law Firm takes dedication, persistence, and hard work. It also takes a great paralegal team.

But without proper paralegal training, your employees may not have the skills needed to take your law firm to the next level. Investing in paralegal training means investing in the future of your firm.

Read on to discover 11 reasons that making this investment is in your best interest.

The Importance of Paralegal Training

What is a Paralegal? Job Description, Careers, Training Requirements

You can’t hire a new paralegal and expect them to know exactly what you need. Even with prior experience, your new employee won’t understand the specific techniques your law firm uses unless you train them.

Investing in paralegal training ensures that your team works within the law and your office policies. It also equips them with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully fill their position.

Here are a few more reasons to sign your staff up for paralegal training.

1. Improved Communication

This goes for both communications between you and your paralegal, as well as between them and your clients. When it comes to important legal issues, Communication Is Key.

Misinterpreting even a few simple words can create chaos in the courtroom. Paralegal training teaches employees how to effectively communicate using the correct verbiage.

Paralegals will also learn the difference between urgent matters and those that are less time-sensitive. Clients can contact the law office via phone and email. Paralegals can field certain inquiries and pass pertinent information and other questions onto the lawyer.

Training will prepare your paralegals for communicating appropriately with clients and other attorneys if needed.

2. Portrays Professionalism

Your firm’s paralegal staff should carry themselves in a professional manner at all times. Training will help teach them what behaviors are and aren’t appropriate.

When dealing with clients, paralegals must stay neutral. Becoming personally involved with a client or case is unethical. Giving legal advice of any kind is illegal.

Your paralegal team should portray themselves in the same way you do. After all, they’re the voice and face of your firm when you can’t be. It’s also important they understand what information is confidential.

3. Understanding Their Role

Paralegals have a specific role in every law firm and proper training guarantees they understand their duties. There are certain jobs that, by law, paralegals cannot perform.

These include:

  • Giving legal advice
  • Negotiating legal fees
  • Suggesting answers for trial or depositions

If a paralegal unknowingly preps a witness for trial or provides legal advice, both you and the accused will find themselves in hot water. This is considered practicing law without a valid license.

But there are many jobs that paralegals can perform and, when done right, will benefit your law firm. Here are a few examples:

  • Report writing
  • Organizing files
  • Answering phone calls
  • Fielding appropriate client questions
  • Conducting research

Paralegal training courses teach new hires these skills and ensure they understand the difference between fielding client questions and offering legal advice.

4. The Ability to Take on More Clients

With more help in the office, your law firm can take on more clients. This will increase your workload, but the paralegal will help offset this. More clients also mean more income.

You can also offer paralegal on the job training which means the employee gets to learn the inner workings of your specific office. Every law firm uses different techniques and practices. The best way to train a paralegal to perform according to your standards is to provide the training yourself.

Once the paralegal is well-versed in your office etiquette, you’ll have an extra set of hands to help juggle more clientele.

5. Faster Turnaround Time

Like any other business, your clients expect fast results. And if there’s one process that can drag on for an eternity, it’s the legal one. Whether you’re handling divorce cases, accidents, or criminal cases, time is of the essence.

A properly trained paralegal can help research cases, file documents, make phone calls, and schedule appointments. This speeds up the process and could increase turnaround time, which benefits both you and your clients.

Most civil cases take between 2 and 3 years to settle. If appeals or other complications occur, some cases can take as long as 10 years to be resolved. Having a trained paralegal team means sharing the workload and, hopefully, closing cases sooner.

6. Provides a Solid Foundation

All paralegals enter the workforce with a Bachelor’s of Science in paralegal studies. This gives them a solid foundation for what the Position Of A Paralegal Requires. But more training never hurt.

The world of law is constantly changing. It’s important for paralegals to understand and adapt to these changes. A solid foundation is the perfect jumping off point.

Some paralegal training even offers information about new and upcoming changes to the current laws.

7. Teaches Other Useful Skills

A good paralegal has other skills outside of those related to law. A paralegal’s job requires interacting with clients, answering phones, understanding your filing and computer system, and research.

Through paralegal training, your hires will sharpen these additional skills and learn how to apply them at work. Taking notes, typing quickly and accurately, and learning new and efficient ways to Store And Dispose Of Files are all skills paralegals can benefit from learning.

8. Offers Guidance

As wonderful as it would be for you to walk your paralegal team through every one of your procedures, it’s just not practical. You have enough on your plate when it comes to trial prep and client meetings.

Sending your paralegals for training gives them guidance and direction. During training, paralegals can address any questions or concerns. This helps clear up confusion and reaffirms the knowledge they already have.

9. Reduces Confusion

Confusion equals mistakes. And you can’t afford to make mistakes. Not when someone’s money, life, business, or marriage is on the line.

Proper training for your paralegal team means clear and concise directions. Paralegals will learn exactly how you want things done and what your expectations are.

In time, your paralegal will learn the specific routines and procedures your law office follows. These may differ from previous firms they’ve worked in, making job-specific training even more important.

When your employees have a clear understanding of their job description and requirements, it means fewer questions, fewer mistakes, and fewer headaches for everyone.

10. Boosts Confidence

A Confident Employee is a productive employee. When your paralegal is confident in their abilities, it shows. Both in their work and in their interactions with clients.

And what better way to boost confidence that offering additional training and information? The more knowledgable your paralegal team is, the more capable they’ll be to handle the workload.

Confident employees are often happier and more positive, which makes for a pleasant work environment. Happy employees accept more responsibility, take on extra work, and are always eager to learn.

Through paralegal training, your employees will find confidence and abilities they never knew they had.

11. Makes Your Job Easier

One of the biggest complaints clients have about their lawyers (besides the cost) is that they don’t hear from them enough. Let’s face it, some clients need a lot of attention. They’re likely dealing with a life-altering situation and require lots of time and attention.

Unfortunately, these clients aren’t your only ones. Lawyers are swamped with preparing for trial, gathering information, giving legal advice, and networking. This makes it impossible to answer every client question and update them regularly.

This is where your paralegal staff comes into play. They can easily handle client inquiries about case status and relay messages between you and the client.

Knowing you have a trained, capable paralegal team at the helm, allows you to relax and turn your attention to the more rigorous, legal work.

Invest in Success

The Wisdom Of WSIB Fluent Paralegals - Goodman Elbassiouni LLP

Offering paralegal training may seem redundant or unnecessary, but in the long run, its an investment in the success of your law firm. Your business is only as good as its employees.

Paralegals can apply their newfound knowledge and skills to the position, resulting in quality work and happy clients. This reflects positively on you and your office.

Giving your paralegal team the right tools and resources will only increase their chances for success.

What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal

Choosing your profession can feel like one of the most crucial decisions you will make. It’s understandable to second-guess yourself. Shows like Law and OrderHow to Get Away with Murder or Better Call Saul may have piqued your interest in the legal realm, but is that interest enough to fuel a career?

Of all the potential courtroom jobs out there, a paralegal career is one of the fastest tracks you can take to your first day on the job. But the time it takes to gain the proper knowledge and training is still an investment. You want to be sure that it’s worth your time.

Take a moment to learn some of the gritty details of working as a paralegal—from the mouths of paralegals and the lawyers who hire them. Use this expert insight to help you make an informed decision.

But first, let’s cover the basics…

What does a paralegal do?

You’ve likely done some research on your own, but it’s always beneficial to have all of your information in one place. What does a paralegal do? Basically, they help their attorneys keep things organized and running smoothly by doing important legal legwork.

Those duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can include assisting attorneys during trials, organizing case files, preparing trial notes, performing legal research, preparing legal briefs and sometimes conducting client and witness interviews.1

“Most paralegal jobs require paralegals to work on contracts, real estate, civil lawsuits and other legal needs,” says Kirk Olson, a lawyer and instructor at Rasmussen University. “One case may require multiple areas of law. For instance, a divorce often requires a paralegal to obtain and review real estate, pension, insurance, business and estate planning documents, not just child custody studies.”

Paralegals are generally detail oriented, organized and efficient. Because duties can vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorneys, they must also be adaptable.

How to become a paralegal

How to Become a Paralegal: A Guide to Paralegal Education | Best Colleges |  US News

One of the most common concerns for anyone looking into starting in this field is the amount of education needed—as well as how long it takes to become a paralegal. The path to becoming a paralegal can look very different from one person to the next.

But the BLS states that the most common educational path that leads to work as a paralegal is an Associate’s degree, which can be completed in as a few as 18 months.1,2 That said, if you’ve already earned a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you’ll need on the job without requiring more years of schooling—in fact, this Certificate program can be completed in as few as 8 months.2

What to expect from the Paralegal Certificate program

Online Paralegal Degree - Colorado Mountain College

This program is designed to supplement education from a different field. If you already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any area, a Paralegal Certificate program can give you the legal basics a paralegal needs to know while building upon the foundation of general education courses you’ve already completed.

In this kind of paralegal program, you’ll take courses like Introduction to Legal Research, Legal Writing and Law Office Management. Ethical communication, interdisciplinary awareness and emerging technology are important objectives of this program.

What to expect from a Paralegal Associate’s degree program

Paralegal Associate’s degree program will give you an essential basis for work as a paralegal (as well as other careers) with foundational classes in English composition, math and the humanities. But the bulk of your studies will focus on skill and knowledge areas specific to the legal world and the paralegal duties within it.

Courses like Torts, Contracts and Family Law zoom in on complex subjects in the legal realm, while other courses such as Computer Applications and Business Systems Concepts, Legal Writing and Legal Research help you build the critical skill sets paralegals need.

A Paralegal degree will provide you with the skills needed to succeed in the field, but there will be a host of things you won’t learn until you’re on the job. For some additional insights, we asked paralegal professionals to share the things they wish they’d known before starting their careers.

What is a paralegal career like?

“You will work hard and long hours, but it’s worth it,” says paralegal and Rasmussen University Justice Studies instructor Julia Gordon. Gordon explains that paralegals carry a lot of weight on their shoulders and every detail matters.

“There is no room for error in tracking deadlines and working with court scheduling,” says Kevin Queenan of The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. “Mentoring legal assistants, I hear the same issue every time: I did not know you meant that detail oriented!” Queenan emphasizes that miniscule mistakes can have big consequences in the legal world. Having a bad day won’t cut it as an excuse if your mistake costs the firm a case, or worse, accusations of malpractice.

Yet, Queenan points out, people with the right personality can flourish in this position. Paralegals can take jobs with varied daily tasks and experiences if that is what they are looking for. “In a general civil practice … the legal assistant may be answering discovery [requests] one day and driving out to meet a new client the next day.”

“For those who like more structure or repetition, there are law practices involving cookie-cutter lawsuits and issues. I talked to a legal assistant yesterday, and her last position involved filing 1,000 credit card lawsuits per month,” Queenan explains.

“Don’t go into the job with rose-colored glasses,” Gordon says. You might picture working in an office full of driven individuals who want to help their clients fix injustices. But unfortunately, it isn’t always like that.

“Not all attorneys are nice, and not all attorneys are ethical,” Gordon says. “Be aware of your ethical rules and guidelines and never compromise your integrity. Nothing is worth losing your self-respect over. You have your clients’ lives in your hands. Treat the position with the highest reverence.”

What is the average paralegal salary?

While not every aspect of a paralegal’s work is considered glamorous, that’s really no different from most jobs. After all, there’s a reason you get paid to work. But is that pay enough to support you and your responsibilities? That’s up to you to decide.

The median annual paralegal salary in 2018 was $50,940, according to the BLS.2 That’s $12,300 more than the national average of $38,640 for all occupations.2 This is pretty encouraging for a job that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or hazardous working conditions.

Which paralegal skills matter most?

In this legal career, certain personalities and particular skill sets are better poised for success than others. If you are considering work as a paralegal, make sure you fit the bill by the time you apply.

“An effective [paralegal] must be computer savvy,” Queenan says. She adds that good legal assistants don’t overreact under pressure, are highly organized and care about the small details.

“Being kind and helpful is a good start,” Olson says. But Olson emphasizes that helpfulness won’t land you the job. “Lawyers hire paralegals because a good paralegal will find flaws in documents and assist with billing and other detailed functions that keep a law office working. A good paralegal is a ‘deadline cop’ who keeps the law firm on track.”

Olson says paralegals are expected to catch errors made by others and remind everyone of important dates. “Finding and warning of a deadline that others missed may prevent a loss of a client’s case and may save a $10,000 deductible in a lawyer’s malpractice claim,” Olson adds.

All that detail checking includes spelling and grammar. Olson says paralegals correct citation mistakes, grammar errors and other inaccuracies. Fine-tuning your writing and editing abilities is vital for success as a paralegal—that, as well as technical proficiency.

“A person considering becoming a legal assistant should take the highest level of available training on Word, WordPerfect and Westlaw,” Queenan says. “A technologically proficient [paralegal] will wow their lawyers more often and command a higher salary and raises.”

How to stand out as a paralegal

If you are mentally checking off some of those skill boxes—that’s a great sign. While detail-oriented professionals with strong writing and computer skills are important in this profession, there are ways to stand out even more.

Queenan recommends seeking training in client interactions, etiquette and communication skills since presenting a professional image to clients is incredibly important. Pay close attention to verbal slip-ups—no one wants to hear their legal help sounding careless. You want to make sure you are representing yourself, your clients and, ultimately, your practice as best as you can. This includes being able to communicate in a professional manner.

Additionally, Queenan suggests learning more about research materials on the internet. “We are suing a major manufacturer, and my legal assistant found several articles that were helpful to our lack of warning claims. The information was free!”

Olson suggests asking for examples of finished case files when you take work as a paralegal to see samples of what completed and professional work looks like for that firm. “And be assertive. If something does not look right, insist that it be explained or fixed.”

Are you cut out to become a paralegal?

Paralegals play an integral role in a firm’s success. Every document filed, every interview conducted and every ounce of collected research matters.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to work in the exciting legal world you’re used to seeing on TV, the paralegal profession may be the perfect career choice for you. Not only can it help you pay the bills, but it will challenge you intellectually and provide you with valuable professional experience to reach your long-term career goals.

8 benefits of becoming a certified paralegal

Certified paralegal

According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), more than 12,000 paralegals have earned the professional designation “Certified Paralegal” (CP) since the organization began sponsoring the certification exam in 1976.

While obtaining a certified paralegal credential is a voluntary certification process that can improve a resume, it’s not an entry-level requirement to enter the field. So why should a paralegal consider becoming certified?

#1: Employer expectations

Becoming a certified paralegal can demonstrate to employers the commitment a paralegal has to the profession and represents mastery of certain skills and knowledge necessary for success in the industry.

While many employers don’t have a preference as to whether or not a paralegal be certified, it is usually best to check job descriptions and employer preferences to see if this could be a requirement to land a certain position.

#2: Competitive edge

Years ago, when the supply of paralegals was much smaller than the demand for them, entry-level paralegals could enter the field with no certification, degree, or even experience. But in the last couple of decades, competition in the field has increased dramatically.

Now, certification is becoming the standard that can improve professional credibility. If you’re looking for a way to set yourself apart when it comes to applying for jobs, a paralegal certificate can help you highlight why you are the better choice for the job.

#3: Enhanced marketability for the firm

The most marketable law firms have a culture of thought leadership and don’t just hire qualified lawyers and paralegals—they especially value thought leaders. A law firm that employs only certified paralegals can market itself as such, advertising that both their attorneys and paralegal staff possess the specialization and experience necessary to handle the most complicated cases and legal issues.

Pointing this out to your supervisor can even help if you are hoping to convince your law firm to help pay for the certificate program, or if you want to ensure that you will be allowed flexible hours.

#4: Increased client satisfaction

Certified paralegals have demonstrated that they have the level of competence required to pass a certification exam and maintain the credential. This ability is not lost on clients, who want their matters handled by experienced professionals.

Attorneys also know the value of keeping clients happy and meeting their expectations as efficiently as possible. They understand that certified paralegals have additional training on how to handle clients and keep them coming back. Not to mention making clients more likely to elicit referrals, the backbone of any successful law practice.

#5: Higher income potential

Another advantage of paralegal certification is the potential to earn a higher income, both in salary as well as benefits – an average salary increase of $4,880, according to NALA. This increase is due in part to the very fact that a paralegal certification is not required, and so is considered additional knowledge obtained voluntarily. Which inherently makes a certified paralegal more valuable and an asset to a law firm or legal department.

#6: Sharpening their skills

While achieving paralegal certification is a challenge on its own, in order to maintain this credential, certified paralegals are required to continuously update their knowledge. NALA requires paralegals to undergo recertification every five years, and to be eligible, they must:

  • Complete a minimum of 50 clock hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE)
  • Obtain at least five hours of ethics training (included in the 50-hour CLE requirement)
  • Affirm that they have not been convicted of a felony
  • Pay a recertification fee of $125

Since recertification renewal requires multiple training courses, certified paralegals are continually refreshing their knowledge and staying up to date on developments within the legal industry.

#7: Staying ahead of the curve

Although paralegal certification is a voluntary process, as laws change and the legal industry continues to grow, states are expected to begin to require certification. Becoming certified prior to any future legislation could save time and money and reduce the inconvenience of such mandates. Paralegals who have earned certification will likely be ahead of those who need to return to school or obtain certification should it become mandatory in their state.

#8: Preparing to move on

For paralegals who plan to eventually attend law school and become attorneys, passing a paralegal certification exam is a step ahead that will require them to gain in-depth knowledge of certain practice areas and prepare them to take the rigorous Law School Admission Test (LSAT), before law school.

Contact us for more information.

What a Paralegal Does and How to Become One

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The median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was $50,940 in May 2018, according to the BLS.(GETTY IMAGES)

A job as a paralegal might be ideal for those who appreciate the intricacy of the U.S. legal system and are eager to provide assistance to lawyers. Experts on this profession say it can be a fulfilling occupation for individuals who are detail oriented and enjoy writing.

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Reading comprehension and written communication are critical skills to cultivate for success as a paralegal, says Margaret Phillips, an attorney who is director and associate professor of paralegal studies at Daemen College in New York.

“The very best thing to do is to read and write as much as you can,” Phillips wrote in an email. “Of course, it is helpful to know legal vocabulary and how the legal system works, but that type of knowledge can be acquired in a paralegal studies program. It is much harder to make up for shortcomings in reading and writing abilities, and those abilities form the foundation for learning and performing legal work.”

Thomas E. McClure, director of legal studies and associate professor at Illinois State University, notes that precision is important in the paralegal field, since the occupation is highly technical.

“So, if you’re a broad brush type person, it’s probably not the profession for you, because it’s a lot of detail work, and attention to detail is extremely important,” he says.

Paralegals do a significant amount of writing, so someone who is more confident in their public speaking abilities than their writing skills might prefer a different occupation, says McClure, who also chairs the American Bar Association’s commission that approves paralegal programs.

Paralegal Salaries and Employment Rates

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was $50,940 in May 2018. The bureau predicts that employment in these types of jobs will increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028, which is significantly higher than the average projected job growth rate of 5% for all U.S. occupations.

Rising demand for paralegals is a longstanding trend, since law firms are now asking paralegals to do work that previously would have been assigned to lawyers, Phillips says.

“Since the recession, law offices have looked to become more competitive and efficient, which has sometimes meant shifting who does what on the legal team,” she says. “The forecast for paralegals has been pretty strong since that time.”

The number of requests Phillips gets from employers who want to hire paralegals eclipses the number of job-seeking students and graduates of her paralegal program, she says.

Plus, nonlegal employers such as banks and insurance companies are often interested in hiring individuals with paralegal degrees “because they understand the value of legal training,” she says.

Phillips suggests that as the number of paralegal programs has increased, employers have grown more appreciative of the ways that a paralegal can contribute to a workplace.

Debra R. Geiger, president of the American Association for Paralegal Education and head of the paralegal studies department at Savannah Technical College in Georgia, notes increasing demand for paralegals with legally pertinent tech skills.

“This includes client file security, electronic filing in cases, digital forensics, and electronic evidence discovery and preservation,” Geiger, who is an attorney, wrote in an email. “Some of the most lucrative jobs are in this field.”

Gaye Weintraub, a Texas-based former paralegal who currently works as a college and career coach, says she loved her work as a paralegal.

“I knew a paralegal profession would be perfect for me because I enjoy everything having to do with the law,” she wrote in an email. “I would say someone who wants to become a paralegal should love the law a great deal.”

How to Become a Paralegal

According to McClure, there are three types of academic credentials that someone can use to enter the paralegal profession: associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or post-baccalaureate certificates. It typically takes two years to get an associate degree in paralegal studies and about twice as long to earn a bachelor’s degree in the discipline, McClure says.

Postbaccalaureate certificates are an option only for college graduates and can be earned within one year, he adds.

Future paralegals have the flexibility to choose what type of credential is most suitable, Geiger notes.

“One advantage of the paralegal profession is that a lot of jobs are available for those who only choose to pursue a two-year degree, quite often at a community college, where the cost of an education is relatively inexpensive,” she says. “While some of the top-paying positions require a four-year degree, one can make a good living as a paralegal with a two-year degree.”

How a Paralegal’s Job Differs From a Lawyer’s

A paralegal’s responsibilities vary depending on how much work is delegated to him or her by the attorney for whom he or she works. However, in general, a paralegal will write correspondence and documents that a supervising attorney can look over, modify if necessary and sign off on.

Paralegals are often responsible for organizing and updating files on various legal clients and may work to obtain affidavits and other formal statements that can be submitted as evidence in court cases. They may also handle scheduling for a legal office and act as a liaison between lawyers and their clients, as well as track deadlines and ensure that they are met.

Bita Goldman, the global general counsel for Unidays Inc. – a mobile application that allows students to discover and reap savings from various brands – has hired and worked with paralegals throughout her career and wrote in an email that paralegals “are the operational brain unit of the legal department. They support attorneys by doing legal research, preparing briefs, and organizing everything needed for trials.”

Nevertheless, there are limitations on what a paralegal can do within the legal profession since paralegals are not lawyers and are not licensed to practice law.

“There’s a few things that paralegals can’t do that only lawyers can do … Paralegals cannot represent clients in court or in depositions,” McClure says. “Only a lawyer can be the advocate in that setting. Paralegals cannot enter into representation agreements or set fees with clients. Only lawyers can do that. And most importantly, a paralegal cannot give legal advice. Only lawyers can. Now what paralegals do is they can have contact with the clients and they can gather information, but they can’t give opinions.”

Another key distinction between paralegals and lawyers is that lawyers have more decision-making authority and more leeway to use their individual discretion, McClure says.

How a Paralegal Program Differs From Law School

Paralegal education is not ordinarily as academically demanding as law school since, unlike most J.D. programs, paralegal programs don’t typically feature make-or-break final exams, McClure notes.

Another important distinction, he explains, is that law school courses are often taught using the Socratic Method. That style of teaching involves asking a series of rhetorical questions and requiring students to figure out the answers, a method of training them how to identify a solution to a legal problem.

Unlike Socratic law classes, McClure explains, paralegal courses are taught using a conventional lecture style.

“There’s a big difference and even if instructors are particularly difficult in paralegal education, they usually are not nearly as stringent as law school professors are,” McClure says. “When I teach a (paralegal) course that’s a tough course, I always say that it’s law school lite, because it’s nowhere close to what law school is.”

McClure says paralegal programs typically include the following four required core classes: an overview of the law, legal research, legal writing and litigation.

Paralegal students often have the opportunity to take elective classes that focus on specific areas of the law, he adds, such as family law, criminal law, intellectual property law, real estate law and contracts law.

Paralegal programs also typically offer classes on torts law, business law, property law, bankruptcy law and the law of wills, trusts and probates, Geiger explains. Paralegal students also learn about civil litigation rules and procedures and electronic legal research, she says.

“Most programs have a course on law office technology, so students are ready for work upon graduation,” Geiger adds.

Phillips notes that paralegal programs typically teach “the nitty gritty of how the legal system works” in civil and criminal cases at the state and federal level. The programs also provide lessons on “how to find applicable law to solve a problem” and “how to apply the law to a problem,” she says.

Paralegal students learn how to craft legal documents like complaints, motions and memos, Phillips notes, as well as “the skills necessary to work on a legal team, which include writing skills, investigation and interviewing skills, professionalism or ‘soft’ skills, and technology skills.”

Phillips emphasizes that paralegal education is less focused than law school on legal theory.

“As opposed to the general academic approach of law school, paralegal education is specifically aimed at developing practical, substantive skills, such as applying the law to produce legal documents like pleadings, memos, legal correspondence, and legal memos,” she says.

“Paralegal students are typically well-versed in the practical application of the law, legal vocabulary, how the legal system works, and the written products produced by different types of law offices. Any type of paralegal degree can lead to a student being extremely well-prepared for law school.”

Paralegal education is designed to ensure that every student is prepared to excel in a paralegal position once they graduate, experts say.

“Students study a broad-based curriculum with a primary focus on developing practical skills, as well as learning core legal concepts,” Geiger says. “For example, in Family Law they learn the basic legal concepts but also learn how to do every aspect of a divorce case including client interviews, drafting documents, including pleadings, discovery, separation agreements, and divorce decrees. They also assist clients with preparing financial declarations and running preliminary child support calculations.”

How to Choose a Paralegal Program

One key sign of a quality paralegal program is if it is approved by the American Bar Association. Another important factor to consider is a program’s job placement rate.

“If most of the program’s graduates are obtaining legal jobs, then it is a good sign that the program has appropriately tailored its curriculum to the local legal needs,” Phillips says. “Although nationally employers may place a high value on four-year degrees, depending on the needs in your geographic area you may find there are high-quality and effective associate degree programs with high placement rates.”