7 Signs You Should Consider Pursuing a Paralegal Career
Working in the legal field has always sounded appealing—but the years of expensive schooling required to become an attorney? Not so much. Still, you just can’t shake the feeling that you belong in the world of law.
If you’re after a job that allows you to work in the legal field without investing years in law school, a paralegal career might be the right option for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that earning an Associate’s degree is a common path to becoming a paralegal.1 And the good news is it’s one that can be completed in as few as 18 months.2
That may be far less time than it takes to become a lawyer, but you still don’t want to embark on a career path unless you know you have the qualities it takes to succeed. You might be surprised to discover that many of the skills you use in daily life could also translate to a paralegal career. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you might be closer to becoming a paralegal than you realize.
Are you the one your coworkers turn to when they need a second opinion on a draft of a tricky email, knowing you’ve the ability to get the message across clearly and tactfully? Or are you the one to help your friends come to an agreement after weeks of misunderstanding each other? No matter the scenario, if clear and direct communication come naturally to you, you’ll be well equipped for paralegal work.
These skills will come in handy as a paralegal, where a big part of the job is talking to others. “Daily tasks require paralegals to be conduits for information,” says attorney Ruth Jackson Lee. Paralegals always need to be at the top of their communication game since much of their time is spent interviewing clients and experts or speaking with opposing counsel.
Wi-Fi that won’t work, printers that won’t print, phones that are on the fritz—these types of tech hiccups are no big deal for you. You don’t have to be the office’s IT ace, but it will be a big plus if you can tackle technology with confidence, troubleshoot common problems and feel comfortable learning new programs or software.
“Reliance on technology is a big part of being a paralegal,” says Linda McGrath-Cruz, paralegal and owner of Perfectly Paralegal Consulting. “Technology can help streamline day-to-day activities and help paralegals work more efficiently.” And don’t forget about the growing area of eDiscovery, in which paralegals use electronically stored information that’s relevant to a lawsuit.
You love relaxing with a good true crime podcast, investigative TV show or mystery novel. There’s nothing better than using your critical-thinking skills and following the clues to crack the case. Sometimes you even figure out the twist ending before the main character!
Believe it or not, the problem-solving skills you use to solve fictional mysteries can play a big role in a successful paralegal career. “A paralegal needs to look at case materials with the end goal in mind and analyze the documents to uncover hidden facts, or to follow the trail to new information,” McGrath-Cruz says. “Sometimes paralegals need to get creative and explore alternative options to uncover that information when faced with dead ends.”
It’s not unusual to find you making dinner while on the phone with the pediatrician’s office, or driving to work while catching up on the latest episode of your favorite podcast. When it comes to getting things done and staying on top of your to-do list, you’ve got it covered, thanks to your stellar multitasking abilities.
“[Paralegals] need to juggle many things with little time to devote to them,” says Candess Zona-Mendola, senior trial paralegal at The Lange Law Firm. “It is not uncommon for me to be working on multiple projects simultaneously.” Your strong multitasking skills could be a valuable addition to a paralegal career.
Your kids’ baseball schedule changed at the last minute, and now you need to be on the other side of town in three hours. You’re not breaking a sweat, though. You’ve already called your carpool family, figured out dinner and looked up directions to the ball field. Flexibility is your middle name.
“We need to be ready for whatever emergency comes at us,” Zona-Mendola says. “We need to be malleable to always learn new things—new law, new ways of thinking.” Plans can change quickly in the legal field. Being flexible will help you stay on your toes when unexpected situations arise.
You like to think you can handle most things on your own, but when life throws you curveballs, you have a ready list of friends and family to step in and help when you need them. Whether it’s asking a coworker to help you meet a deadline or having a neighbor meet the kids’ bus when you’re stuck in traffic across town, you’re not afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Paralegals may be responsible for a variety of job duties, but that doesn’t mean they have to go it alone. Knowing when it ask for help is one of the key traits of a successful paralegal. “A paralegal isn't expected to know everything, but they are expected to know how to find everything,” McGrath-Cruz says. “Knowing where to look or whom to ask for help when necessary will take a paralegal far in their career.”
Your friends may make fun of you for obsessively checking the weather and keeping meticulously managed schedules, but you’ll never apologize for being overly prepared. You’re never caught off guard in a meeting, your car is stashed with extra snacks and diapers for the kids and a rainstorm will always find you ready and waiting with an umbrella in hand.
This ability to look ahead and prepare for what’s coming is a sought-after skill for paralegals. “The most successful—and highly coveted—paralegals are proactive. That means being self-motivated and looking ahead to not only anticipate problems, but also taking steps avoid them,” Lee says. She adds that this ability to thoughtfully plan for what’s coming brings together several other essential skills, including organization, problem solving and leadership.
Did any of these scenarios sound familiar? If this list made you smile with recognition, the signs might be pointing the way toward a paralegal career.
You might do well as a paralegal, but you also need to make sure a paralegal career is a good fit for you. Get the inside scoop about what the job is really like in our article “What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed September 5, 2018].
2Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.