You may already know that the paralegal profession offers you the opportunity for a challenging and well-respected career, but there are additional advantages to the field you may not have considered. If you’re contemplating a career change or you’re seeking a promotion within the legal field, now is a good time to weigh the many personal and professional benefits of becoming a paralegal.
It Offers You Career Longevity
As you pursue the paralegal profession, you will be standing on solid employment ground. In fact, job prospects are outstanding. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the paralegal field will grow by 17 percent through 2022 nationwide, much faster growth than for many other occupations.
It Will Pay You Well
According to salary.com, the average annual salary for paralegals in Tampa ranges from $47,652 to $60,842. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the national annual salary for paralegals is $52,180, with the highest average annual salary ($80,470) and highest employment rate in Washington.
Paralegals working for the federal government tend to make the most ($64,650 on average), and those working for state government tend to earn the least ($46,810 on average). Also, according to NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants, paralegals who work for large firms with multiple lawyers tend to earn more than those at smaller firms.
It Sticks to a (Mostly) Predictable Work Schedule
When a trial or filing deadline looms, it is possible you will have to work more than 40 hours a week or a Saturday here and there, but you certainly will never have to be concerned about the graveyard shift. This is a tremendous benefit if you seek a career with a healthy work-life balance or if second- or third-shift work would make child care and family life a challenge. Paralegals work a standard workday. If you are a paralegal working for the government, you usually will have a day off whenever the courts are closed.
It Offers You the Prestige of Professional Certification
Paralegals can enter the field through formal education, on-the-job training, or a combination of both. Although the Florida Bar Association’s definition of a paralegal does not stipulate a college degree or specific certification, many firms seek and pay higher salaries to paralegals with formal credentials.
- Certified Paralegal: For this designation, you must pass an exam offered by NALA.
- Florida Certified Paralegal: If you pass the CP exam, you become eligible to sit for the Paralegal Association of Florida exam.
- Florida Registered Paralegal: Qualified paralegals can seek this voluntary designation from the Florida Bar.
It Provides You Recognition and Advancement
With hard work and outstanding experience, you can expect career advancement within the paralegal field. Your firm or agency could promote you to paralegal director, litigation support manager, or paralegal supervisor, roles that bring increased salary and responsibilities.
One more fun element of recognition: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an official Paralegal Day (in 2019, it was recognized on Oct. 23), which surely could earn you a long, laudatory lunch from your employer.
It Offers You the Potential to Be Your Own Boss
The gig economy is taking hold even in the legal field, with more and more law firms outsourcing work to paralegals who are independent contractors rather than staffers. Two common scenarios for law firms to hire a remote paralegal:
- With large legal departments that maintain a staff of paralegals, you may find freelance work during busy seasons (such as tax season) and when staffers are on vacation or take leave.
- With small legal departments that cannot justify the cost of keeping a full-time paralegal on staff, you may find work as a remote or temporary paralegal to manage the workload on an as-needed basis.
These staffing needs line up nicely with the results of UpWork’s annual Freelancing in America survey of 6,000 workers. For the 35 percent of the U.S. workforce who freelanced in 2019, the study found that it is not just temporary gig work that is on the rise: 28 percent of freelancers in all fields work full time as independent contractors, not staff employees. That trend appears to be on the rise, even for paralegals. If you like the idea of flexible self-employment, the paralegal profession is a strong contender.
It Presents You with a Variety of Career Specializations
Not only can you choose to work in almost any category of settings that are not law firms – banks, corporations, nonprofits, hospitals, government, judges’ staff – you can seek experience and certification in several areas of specialization, allowing you to mold your career to suit your personal interests and skills, as well as market demands.
- Family law paralegal: Suitable for those who are adept with emotionally delicate situations, your work will regard custody disputes, the preparation of pleas, and drafting correspondence.
- Intellectual property paralegal: Appropriate for those with project management skills and an interest in marketing (you often will help marketers in creating trademarks), your work will focus on copyright and trademark law, patents, and other intellectual property concerns.
- Litigation paralegal: Ideal for those who like a fast pace and the high stakes of the courtroom, your work will be concerned with preparing for trial, overseeing discovery, and interviewing witnesses.
- Real estate paralegal: A good choice for paralegals who hold a real estate license, your work will center on reviewing and filing documents, coordinating schedules, and handling correspondence related to zoning, transactions, and foreclosures.
- Immigration paralegal: An excellent fit for bilingual paralegals, your work will focus on helping immigrants deal with visa applications and petitions related to deportation.
- Corporate paralegal: Excellent for paralegals who prefer to be behind the scenes rather than interacting with clients and the court, your work will relate to research and reviewing contracts.
- Estate and probate paralegal: A perfect fit for a paralegal who is good with numbers and has compassion for those dealing with end-of-life issues, your work will focus on wills, estates, distribution of property, deeds, and inheritance tax.
It Suits Your Skills (and Adds New Ones)
Paralegals can be generalists or specialists, but all paralegals have a core set of skills. If you don’t match up with all of these qualities, training for and working as a paralegal will help you hone them.
- You love writing and editing: Paralegals must draft flawless documents.
- You’re organized: Paralegals prepare and maintain files.
- You’re computer savvy: Paralegals with mastery of Word, Excel, Westlaw, and LexisNexis have a leg up when job-hunting.
- You’re good with numbers: Paralegals often deal with tax issues, financial records, bankruptcy, amortization, the calculation of damages and settlements, and forfeitures, so math skills matter.
- You love a deadline: Paralegals feel energized by a filing deadline or court date.
It Enables You to Serve the Public
Helping others is the essence of paralegal work. You will help your lawyers prepare cases, and you will help clients through difficult experiences in the legal system. If you are interested in the law because you are passionate about social justice, you might be a good fit for family law, immigration law, probate, bankruptcy, or environmental law. If you are interested in criminal law, you might consider working for a public defender.
We invite you to explore USF’s Paralegal Certificate Program, an exceptional course of study taught exclusively by sitting judges.