You think you’ve got what it takes to pursue a career in the legal arena. You watch crime dramas and read suspense novels, and try to solve cases along with your favorite characters. You pride yourself on being a scrupulous individual; and, friends and family may have referred to you as a perfectionist. Perhaps you would love a career in law, but you’re not sure if all those years of schooling is for you. If this is the case, becoming a paralegal may be just the career for you.
While a paralegal career may seem like a great career (The job outlook growth for paralegals is much faster than average (15% vs 7%) and median annual wages in 2017 for paralegals ranged from $37,690 to $50,410, depending which industry you work in), it may not be a great fit for everyone. It can be a very high-stress occupation, and it requires a very specific set of select skills and qualities in order for the paralegal to be an overall asset to any legal team. Read on to find out the key quality traits you should have if you are thinking about becoming a paralegal.
1. You’re interested in the law and the legal process
The first, most obvious quality trait of a paralegal is a special interest in law, legal issues, and legal proceedings. Most paralegals work in law firms, government agencies, Nor for Profit Organizations and both large and small corporations. Some paralegals work on a freelance basis and work on a contract basis providing services to lawyers and businesses in need of legal support services. The world of law is very fast paced, complex, and specific thus requiring someone who is meticulous and detail oriented. If you like problem solving and research, this may be the field for you.
As a paralegal, you will get to work side by side with attorneys and other legal professionals, assisting the legal team both inside and outside of the courtroom. You’ll play a pivotal role in the preparation of legal documents, organizing files, and conducting the research that will support a case in court or to complete the legal process within ongoing corporate negotiations or contracts.
The work of a Paralegal doesn’t stop here however. Depending on the specialty of the firm or agency a paralegal works for, they are also be required to take on additional tasks, such as conducting witness interviews, or attending real estate closings. Remember the movie Erin Brokovich? She was doing some of the tasks of a paralegal. Preparing briefs and legal documents, working with attorneys, getting ready for court and helping lawyers with the interview and evidence gathering process can take a lot of work, time and energy. But if you have a passion for the law, then winning cases, helping clients and helping the organization you work for is the reward for being a paralegal.
2. You’re great at multitasking.
As with any career choice, a paralegal must master more than one skill in order to succeed at their job. The study of law itself requires a ton of information be learned and then applied to the appropriate case/situation.
Paralegals have to be knowledgeable about the law and know how to continue to research the law in order to be effective at their job. Each case requires the paralegal to apply any number of laws in order for the case to be successful. This is just one of them any tasks that a Paralegal is doing in any given day. A paralegal might be helping more than one lawyer and thus working on a number of cases at any given time. The Paralegal must be accurate, disciplined, detail-oriented and uber organized in order to keep track of all the various tasks and cases which he or she may be focusing on at any given time. You have excellent communication skills (both written and verbal)
Working with the law requires one to both write and speak effectively. Drafting legal documents is a seminal function for the paralegal. These documents include correspondence, pleadings, complaints, subpoenas, deposition notices, and legal briefs to name a few. The law focused not only what is said but also how it is said. The slightest shift in language, grammar and word usage in a sentence can easily move the balance a case in the favor of either side in the case. The role of the paralegal is always to ensure that their work will benefit the client and the organization for whom they are working.. Verbal communication also needs to be clear and concise so that any information being conveyed is definitely understood by the listening party. As such paralegal need to have excellent interpersonal communication skills as well as above average written communication skills and more.
4. You are a people person.
No firm is an island unto itself. It is an amalgamation of various people working together and doing what they specialize in to the benefit of the organization as a whole. Becoming a paralegal will definitely require that you master the art of human social interaction. Knowing how to deal with each person you encounter is crucial to the job. In fact, this skill goes hand in hand with being an excellent communicator.
You need to be able to explain and discuss certain case related issues and procedures with clients, and relay messages back and forth between many of the parties involved with the case; from witnesses and clients to attorneys and other legal professionals. It’s crucial to be able to be able to explain documents or legal procedures in layman’s terms to a client who is not familiar with the law.
You will also need to remember that often, when people are involved in a situations that require legal assistance, they are usually high-stress situations, which means you may have to deal with some not-so-happy individuals in this line of work. It is imperative though, for both your mental/emotional health and for the sake of the client, firm, or case that you try to communicate effectively, keep a positive attitude, and try to remain empathetic and sympathetic while still maintaining professionality. You may not become beloved with and to everyone you speak with; but getting your messages/intent across clearly and effectively will take you very far in your paralegal career.
5. You tend to pay attention to detail.
Ever hear that saying, “The Devil Is In The Details”? Well there’s a reason for that. Failure to focus on the details of a task can make one feel like Satan himself is toying with your destiny. A good paralegal focuses not only on the bigger picture, but will pay special attention to the small details as well. It’s those fine details that will often make or break a case in the courtroom. From the presentation of the facts to the order in which those facts must be stated, details are extremely important. One cannot overlook anything. Paralegals work with attorneys to determine the best way in which the information should be presented or how documents should be drafted to meet their clients needs and to serve the needs of the organization for whom they are working. Paying attention to details is an invaluable skill for a Paralegal.
Are You Ready to Start Your Paralegal Career?
So you like the law, are well spoken and write well, are detail oriented and like working with a variety of people. If this sounds, like you, then a career as a Paralegal may be the right career move for you. Now the question is: How do I get started? The typical entry-level requirement for a Paralegal is an Associate’s Degree, so the first step will be to enroll in a solid Paralegal degree program like the one offered at City College.
It is important that when searching for good paralegal programs, you choose a school that will provide you with training in the various areas of law, such as family law, real estate law, general law, criminal law, torts, and here in Florida Immigration Law. The legal field is very broad, and many firms specialize in specific types of law. Being able to learn the specifics and intricacies of each specialized law field will not only prepare you for a well-rounded career and thus more work options, but it will also help you determine which area of law you have an interest in and are best suited to work in.
Another important factor that should be considered when choosing a paralegal program is whether or not the school requires students to partake in an externship as part of the program. An externship is a wonderful opportunity for an aspiring paralegal to receive valuable on-the-job training. During your externship, you will be able to shadow an experienced paralegal, receive career tips and advice, and network with other professionals in the field and potential future colleagues.
City College offers an Associate of Science Degree in Paralegal/Legal Assisting at both the Altamonte Springs Campus and Fort Lauderdale Campus; and both have a 150 hour externship and also prepare students to sit for the Certified Paralegal Examination. If you are thinking about becoming a paralegal, then contact us today and one of our helpful Admissions Staff will be sure to help get you started on your new journey to becoming a paralegal!