Working as a Paralegal: 7 Things You Should Know
Interested in a career in the legal system, but law school or the police academy likely aren’t your speed? You may want to consider a career as a paralegal. While paralegals aren’t typically in the spotlight of Hollywood legal thrillers and police procedural shows, they play an important role in the legal field that shouldn’t be overlooked.
While it’s true each paralegal role will differ depending on the needs of a firm and the type of law practiced, there’s still a lot you can learn about the role in general by turning to legal professionals for their insight—and we’ve done just that! Read on for a primer of what you can expect from a paralegal career.
What you should know about working as a paralegal
1. You’ll generally work regular office hours—with some exceptions
Paralegal work tends to follow a normal office workday.
“Typically, work is standard business hours, Monday through Friday, 9–5,” says Samantha Jobak, a litigation paralegal at Christensen Law. “These are the hours that the courts and insurance companies are open, so most law firms will operate in the same timeframe.”
This doesn’t mean that paralegals never work long hours, however. Trial preparation and deadlines can sometimes call for an extended stay on the clock.
“It can get very busy and overwhelming at times, but other times are relaxed and with no distraction when working on a project,” says Khaled M. Ereikat, a litigation paralegal at Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP. “Every day is different, but I personally believe that the fluctuation keeps my job interesting.”
2. You’ll take on a variety of high-stakes work for a wide range of clients and attorneys
Part of what makes paralegal work so attractive to some is that the role is multifaceted.
“Succeeding as a paralegal involves understanding your dual role assisting clients and attorneys,” says attorney Stewart Guss, who has hired and worked with many paralegals himself. “The best paralegals understand clients are often [facing] an unprecedented challenge in their lives. Bankruptcy, immigration, personal injury, divorce—these situations can be stressful and confusing, which means you have to balance delicacy with firmness in your communication.”
“Paralegals wear many hats,” says Alexis Wyckoff, operations manager and paralegal at Weinstein & Klein. “There’s no mundanity, and there is no typical workday. You not only are involved in legal and administrative work, but you may also have a hand in other areas of firm management. One day you could be organizing case files all day, and the next day you could be helping prepare for a trial.”
Ereikat finds the complexity and length of legal cases highly rewarding.
“Super interesting cases, that you get to see from point A to point Z,” Ereikat explains. “Working as a team with one focused goal makes it fun and enjoyable.”
Stacey Schoenfeld, a litigation paralegal at Christensen Law, says she finds her work exciting.
“Especially when you have put many hours into a file or case and your work is acknowledged—or you win the case,” Schoenfeld adds.
3. You’re always working with (and helping) people
There’s a misperception that paralegals just file and type up documents, but a great deal of the job is client-facing, which means listening skills are a must.
“I love talking to my clients and I love being an outlet for them,” says Nicole Hanna, senior paralegal at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. “Getting in a car wreck is stressful in itself. Add injuries, job loss and a totaled vehicle and you have a very traumatic experience. You’d be surprised at how many people just need to vent.”
Jobak says that part of the job is helping a client navigate nuances of the law and court system that they don’t understand, which can be challenging at times.
“I find it rewarding that I can assist people who are at a loss in terms of how to help themselves,” Jobak explains. “Clients are usually very grateful, and I can go home at the end of the day knowing that I personally contributed to helping someone in need.”
Paralegals often get to know clients very well over the course of a lengthy legal case.
“What makes it enjoyable is getting to know your clients and getting a favorable outcome,” says Stephanie MacPherson, senior litigation paralegal at Christensen Law. “In our area of practice, cases go on for years, and we really get to build relationships with our clients.”
Hanna also finds client relationships to be very rewarding, even the parts that aren’t about updating them on their cases.
“I love to also hear about their new hobby, the antics of their cat or how their granddaughter made them laugh that morning,” Hanna explains. “I have built some very wonderful relationships with my clients and seeing them leave our office with their settlement check and this awful experience behind them is something I find very rewarding. Oftentimes I really miss speaking to them, but hopefully they will never have to call us again!”
4. You’ll need to be detail-oriented and organized, especially in writing
All of the legal professionals we spoke with highlighted the need for being attentive to details in all documents and aspects of a case.
“Being extremely organized will always make things easier in this role,” says Hanna.
Wyckoff agrees, adding that a high level of organization and attention to detail in documentation is a constant requirement in the job, an aspect she enjoys.
“One of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of being a paralegal is being involved in the process from start to finish on any correspondence/pleading/discovery/contract that goes out the door,” Wyckoff explains. “You are the firm’s last line of defense against a poorly placed Oxford comma or a spellcheck disaster.”
“You must have a strong attention to detail and great organizational, communication and writing skills,” says Jobak.
Having a proactive, problem-solving mindset is also key.
“You’re always thinking about the best way to go about something or resolve an issue for your attorney or client,” Jobak adds.
5. You’ll need an investigative drive
Being comfortable solving problems is a big part of paralegal work, and many people are drawn to the profession because of their natural love for research and investigation. In a law firm setting, this may mean tracking down documents and records, filing paperwork and interviewing clients and other parties involved in a case.
“It can be exciting at times depending on what kind of law you practice,” says Jobak. “Examining records or reviewing videos of an accident or photographs of your client’s injuries and gathering the information you will need to prove your case can be very intriguing, especially in preparation for trial. Throughout my career, I have attended numerous trials and participated in presenting information; it was always an invaluable experience.”
Though it can be fascinating to compile everything, legal cases can be long-term rollercoaster rides, with the long hours to match.
“Between preparing exhibits, coordinating with witnesses and clients, and traveling with the attorneys, there are many long days and nights,” Wyckoff says. “Preparing for a trial is probably the craziest it can get.”
6. Your help is needed
It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep legal proceedings moving—and paralegals will continue to play a huge part in that.
“Larger firms and firms that are growing are always seeking good, experienced paralegals,” Wyckoff says.
MacPherson agrees, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that projects employment of paralegals and legal assistants to grow by 12 percent through 2030, a rate of growth which is faster than average for all other occupations.1
Knowing this relative strength of the paralegal job market, she advises those interested in the work to be a little more deliberate and selective in how they approach their job search.
“Consider interning in the field you think might interest you,” MacPherson suggests. “It is crucial to work in an area of law that you enjoy.”
7. You have options for getting started
One positive for prospective paralegals is that there’s no “one true path” to working in this field. While some states may require professional certification, there’s a variety of educational paths you can take to finding paralegal work—whether that’s on-the-job training, a Paralegal Associate’s degree or a concentrated Certificate program for those who’ve already earned an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.
This flexibility makes becoming a paralegal an appealing option for those looking to change their career path—and for some, their skills can translate surprisingly well.
“I was a full-time elementary school teacher before changing careers with zero knowledge of the legal field,” says Hanna. “A lot of the skills needed to be successful as a paralegal may already be in your toolbox.”
Ready to get started in the legal field?
Thinking that paralegal and legal assistant work might be a good fit for your personality and skills? If you’re ready to take that next step, start with our article “How to Become a Paralegal: 4 Steps to Start Your Legal Career” to get a better handle on what lies ahead.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed February 2022] www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.