A paralegal works closely with a lawyer and supports her in her role of representing clients or defendants. If you have a desire to work in law, but to not spend many years in undergraduate and law school, a career as a paralegal may make a good fit. Of course, the pay doesn't quite measure up. Additionally, you have to consider the potential stresses and drawbacks of paralegal work.
Being organized is critical for a paralegal. Much of your work involves reading cases, preparing documents and putting together case files for a lawyer. Paralegals with excellent organizational skills and attention to detail are less apt to experience high stress that results from chaos, disorganization and missed deadlines that result. While a paralegal can't get around the periodic 10- to 12-hour day, or longer, she can manage stress by maintaining orderly books, files and notes.
Being a paralegal is definitely stressful if you don't have the ability to adapt. One minute, you might be drafting a simple contract for a client, and the next, the lawyer calls and needs you to quickly research cases and prepare notes for the next day's court session. If you can easily flex, and enjoy taking on different types of cases, the stress level in this case is again moderate.
One factor that bodes well for paralegals is a high level of job security and stability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted a projected job growth rate of 18 percent for paralegals and legal assistants from 2010 to 2010. Additionally, a September 2011 Forbes.com article noted that paralegals experienced a paltry 3.1 percent unemployment rate during the prior three-year period. The article also described the job as relatively "low stress".
Overall Working Conditions
On the whole, paralegals avoid some of the common sources of job stress. Your work day is largely autonomous. While less experienced paralegals often experience regular direction and task monitoring from lawyers, their research and organization is normally completed independently. You also don't have to worry much about interaction with the public. The job is research-based. As long as you get along with your employer, personal conflicts aren't a huge issue. More experienced paralegals often enjoy an even higher degree of freedom to work on cases. Your workplace is also normally quiet and clean. While the lawyer usually gets credit for the leg work, she also assumes the legal risk if the paralegal gets anything wrong.
2016 Salary Information for Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $49,500 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, paralegals and legal assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $38,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $63,640, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 285,600 people were employed in the U.S. as paralegals and legal assistants.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
- The Empowered Paralegal: Is Being a Paralegal Stressful?
- U.S. News & World Report Money: Paralegal Job Reviews
- Forbes.com: The Most Underrated Jobs
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
- Career Trend: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
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