Are you fascinated by the legal profession? Choosing to be a paralegal is a great way to work in the field without going to the time and expense of becoming a lawyer. The work has definite advantages, but it has its challenges as well and you need to have specific personality traits be a successful paralegal.
Before you can make the right decision, you need educate yourself about this career field (including salary and benefits). There is much more to the job than the financial aspect, though. Taking the time to fully investigate matters will give you answers to questions about what a paralegal is and how you can tell if being a paralegal is right for you. The fact of the matter is that you spend too many hours of your life at work to be miserable, and by gathering quality information about the work before you make a decision, you will be much better prepared to make the right one.
Part of your research into the paralegal field should include finding out what skills employers are looking for. To find the right job, you need to present yourself as a quality candidate who is mature enough to show good judgment in your work. If you are hired as a paralegal, you need to understand that you will be privy to some very personal information provided by clients. In the same way that a lawyer must keep client communications privileged, paralegals have a fiduciary duty to clients.
Areas of Specialization
Within the paralegal field, there are a number of areas where you can choose to specialize. Options include working on real estate transactions or focusing in the area of wills and estates. You could be drawn to family law and dealing with the legal aspects of separation and divorce.
Litigation is a challenging and area of law where people and corporations are attempting to resolve disputes using the legal system. Corporate law involves keeping proper records for company business, as well as mergers and acquisitions. There is also a place for paralegals with an interest in the fascinating field of criminal law.
Where Paralegals Work
Paralegals are hired to work in law firms of all sizes. You could find yourself working in a large firm with many lawyers and support staff. Choosing this type or workplace may mean that you are working on major cases or dealing with high-profile clients. Paralegals also work with sole practitioners, and that type of work environment gives you more personal interaction with clients.
Not all paralegals find work in law firms, though. They can also find challenging work in corporate legal departments. Can you see yourself working for an organization that makes a difference in people’s lives? Consider putting your skills to work at a non-profit. Another option open to fully-trained paralegals is to work for a government department or agency.
If you want to have the challenges and rewards that come with going out on your own, consider working as a paralegal on a contract basis. You would be able to choose where you would like to work, and have more flexibility in your work schedule than an employee would. Yet another option to consider is starting a home-based business as a paralegal and offer your skills for overflow work or document preparation on an as-needed basis.
Once you decide that a paralegal career is right for you, the next step is to choose the right program. You can get hired to work in this field after completing the requirements for an Associate’s degree. There are also a number of specialty schools that provide training to prepare students for paralegal careers, including courses in office procedures, document preparation and legal software used in the workplace.
Part of deciding on the right educational program is to consider the financial resources available to you. When you are looking at different schools, don’t forget to ask whether they have any financial aid available. You may be able to qualify for a scholarship or a grant to help you pay for your education. (Don’t forget to check out a professional paralegal association for information about the profession, certification and scholarships offered.)
Finding Work as a Paralegal
Once you have completed your training as a paralegal, your next area to focus on is how to find a job in this field. The good news is that you have a number of places to look. Not only can you find opportunities posted in general job boards, but you can also check out specialized ones for the legal field. Newspapers ads are another source of helpful leads in your job search efforts.
Many law firms have an online presence, and you should be going online to check out prospective employers in detail. A law firm’s web site is another place for you to look for work as a paralegal. Don’t discount cold calling in your job search; this can be an effective way to tap into the hidden job market.
Your resume is your way of introducing yourself to a prospective employer. To present yourself as a good candidate for a job, you need to prepare this document with care so that you highlight your education and abilities effectively, including providing quality references.
When you are invited to meet with a prospective client, part of your preparation should include practicing questions you may be asked at the meeting. It’s possible that you may be asked some illegal questions during the interview, and it’s possible to handle this situation with tact and dignity. If you and the prospective employer feel that you can work together, you will need to discuss salary, and this can be a very sensitive part of the process that must be handled carefully so that you get paid what you are worth.
To set yourself apart from other applicants, make a point of sending a thank you note to the interviewer. You can use it as a way to highlight your suitability for the position you were discussing. This is a very classy move that will keep you on the interviewer’s radar when a hiring decision is being made.
Paralegals are in demand and the work can be very satisfying. By taking a step-by-step approach, you can determine if it’s the right choice for you, find a quality training program and get hired for the right job.