Working conditions for paralegals can vary widely, as they depend on things such as the type and size of the employer you work for, the number of years experience you have and the area of law that you specialize in. Despite the differences in working conditions, there are some characteristics that most paralegal jobs have in common. Taking a look at some of them can help you decide whether a paralegal career is for you.
Typical Paralegal Duties
As a paralegal, your main responsibility is to assist the attorneys with whom you work. In a law firm setting, this can include meeting with clients in person, corresponding with them via e-mail, letters and over the telephone, conducting legal research, drafting court documents, contracts, wills and divorce agreements, creating electronic databases for all legal documents and maintaining orderly client files. Your duties in a corporation, however, may be quite different. When working in a Fortune 500 company, for example, most of your time may be spent incorporating new entities and helping to handle matters internal to the company.
Where Paralegals Work
If you decide to pursue a paralegal career, chances are that you’ll spend some time working in a law firm, which is where approximately 70 percent of paralegals are employed. The other 30 percent can be found in the legal departments of corporations, within state and federal government agencies and at banks and other financial institutions. But since law firms often work against strict deadlines, work conditions there tend to be a little more intense, and paralegals are frequently required to work much longer hours than their counterparts in government and corporations. Depending on how your employer runs the business, clients may come to the office for scheduled interviews with you, or you may be doing a little traveling to them.
Daily Working Conditions
The working conditions you'll face can really vary, since they are dictated by the type of cases you work on, the area of law it falls under and the size of your employer's paralegal department. Whether you work alone in a small department or are part of a massive team, most of the legal research you'll do is done online or using other legal resources in the office. The larger the firm or corporation is, the more likely it becomes that you'll be collaborating with other paralegals. But if you accept a job working for a solo practitioner, for example, you should expect to have more responsibility -- you may be the only paralegal there.
Opportunities For Advancement
The Bureau of Labor Statistice expects the demand for paralegals to grow, which means there are plenty of opportunities to advance in the field and make yourself a lifelong career. In the first three years, you’ll be learning the ropes as an entry-level paralegal. By the fourth year, however, your employer will expect to see some level of expertise and will likely give you more responsibility and autonomy. And, once you have about five years under your belt, employers may want you to take on more of a managerial role in the paralegal department, will count on you to train new paralegals. Overall, they will begin to turn to you as an expert in your specialty. Paralegals might specialize, for example, in trusts, estates, family law, taxation or commercial law.
Law firms and other organizations that employ paralegals will likely expect you to have earned a bachelor’s degree by the time you apply for an entry-level position. There are, however, other types of training that, although not required, can really make your resume stand out. Many colleges and universities offer paralegal training through associate, bachelor and graduate degree programs, though shorter certificate programs are also available.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.