Paralegals, also known as law clerks, are the legal professionals who work behind the scenes helping lawyers win their cases. As a paralegal, it's your job to conduct research to help lawyers look good in the courtroom or boardroom. The path to becoming a paralegal is relatively short and sweet, compared with the slog through law school to become an attorney. So while your attorney friends study for years and go into debt over tuition costs, you could already be earning a living as a paralegal.
Make paralegal education your first goal. Begin your career by earning an associate's degree in a paralegal program with a community college, which may take from six months to a year to complete. Or if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, earn a certificate in paralegal studies. Ultra-savvy networkers may get lucky and find an employer willing to offer on-the-job training. Reach out to attorneys in your list of contacts as a starting point.
The Art of Communication
Become the best paralegal you can be by setting goals to excel in oral and written communication skills. In the field of law, you must be able to think and articulate your thoughts on the spur of the moment. Learn to communicate in a style that is less warm and fuzzy and more direct and to the point. Set goals to become proficient in legal terminology so that you can prepare documents or write letters quickly and proficiently, and, of course, in clear and grammatically correct sentences.
Under the law, a paralegal is limited in providing service directly to the public without the authority of an attorney. Consequently, your work objective as a paralegal is to increase the efficiency of the attorney you are working with. Paralegals research cases, draft legal documents, and work with clients to manage cases. If your abilities outshine those of every other paralegal in the office, the attorney you work with will look good -- which is a win-win in the professional relationship category.
Successful paralegals set high standards and have a strong work ethic. Aim to excel in time management and organization, and make sure you work well under pressure to meet deadlines. Paralegals must handle stressful situations with tact and empathy to build relationships. There might be times when you don't agree with your client's position. Ethically, you'll need to control keep your personal feelings to yourself.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant
- Monroe Community College: Paralegal Studies
- Paralegal Career For Dummies; Scott Hatch, Lisa Zimmer Hatch
- Ashworth College: Associate of Science Degree in Paralegal Studies
- Atkinson Baker: Lawyers are From Mars and Paralegals are from Venus