Paralegal Technology: Why You Should Consider Becoming a Paralegal
What Is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is defined as a non-lawyer who performs routine tasks requiring some knowledge of the law and procedures, employed by a law office or who works freelance as an independent for various lawyers.
Often you will find paralegals working for lawyers, however there are other businesses that employ paralegals as well. Paralegals might work directly within the courts assisting judges. Paralegals may work for insurance companies, real estate agencies, and many other businesses that often deal with legal business.
The job of a paralegal, in the past, was more along the lines of a legal secretary. Paralegals usually handled administrative duties such as answering phones, making appointments, and filing. These days paralegals work along side lawyers performing tasks such as interviewing clients, preparing court documents, and conducting research to help build cases. These important tasks help to free up the lawyer's time so s/he may concentrate on the strategy needed to win a case.
Paralegal Technology Programs
There are a few educational programs available for someone interested in breaking into the field. Some Community Colleges offer both a certification program as well as the Associate's Degree program. There are many 4 year colleges that offer programs to get your Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Technology. You can go even further and aim for a Master's Degree in Paralegal Studies. With any of these degrees, it is recommended that you also become certified by taking your state's bar exam for paralegals and/or also the national certification exam available through the National Association of Legal Assistants or NALA. Many jobs that you will find listed through online employment searches require at least a 2 year degree as well as some experience or a 4 year degree if you have no actual experience working in the field.
Combining your paralegal training along with training and certifications in related areas can help you to become a much more valuable applicant. One such certification that is excellent to have and can be very helpful when working for a law firm is becoming a notary public. States may offer notary classes through various Community Colleges in your area. Once you have taken the class and passed the exam, you may apply for the commission. After a background check, if you are approved for commission, you are then sworn in and may begin offering services as an official notary.
Finding a Paralegal Job
Because many advertised paralegal jobs require previous experience, how do you gain the experience? Many students, while they are still in school, will get their feet in the door by applying for internships. This may require you to put in some hours at either a law firm or your local Legal Aid office for free. You may also consider working in a legal environment doing secretarial work, letting your supervisor know that you will soon be educated and certified as a paralegal. Just working within the law firm, even if not officially as a paralegal, may be counted toward the experience you need. You may find that the office you are working for will want to promote you to a paralegal position after you are finished with school.
Networking while still in school is also a good way to meet others in the field, get an idea of the credentials they had to have to score the job, and to find out what they like best about working for that company. LinkedIn.com is an excellent online networking site that can help you to connect to others within your field of interest. Another more personal method is to contact people within your field of study who are currently working for a company you may have interest in and to ask them if they would mind allowing you to conduct an "informational interview". In my article, "Professional Networking: The Benefits of Informational Interviewing", an informational interview is defined as “a meeting between you and a professional. The purpose is to help define your career options or research a company where you want to work. It is NOT a job interview. Do not expect anyone to make you an offer.” I also discuss the steps you may take in order to plan and conduct an informational interview. Networking such as this is an excellent way to put your name out while still working toward your degree.
It is certainly not unheard of to find a job as a paralegal as soon as, or even before you graduate. Still, in order to increase your chances of finding a good job after graduation, employing these other methods are a good idea.
By: Traci Ruffner