Tell me about being a paralegal

After many happy years at the puzzle factory, I’m no longer happy here. (Not enough money, not enough respect.) The problem is, of course, that I have no idea what I do want to do. My background – Ph.D in sociology of religion followed by a few years as a college professor, stint as an assistant to a rare book dealer, and 13 years in the puzzle biz – doesn’t directly point me in any particular direction.

My strong suits are analytical ability (I can edit – and write, and solve – killer logic problems) and writing and editing skills. I was talking to a friend of a friend last night who does career counseling, and the thought off the top of her head was “paralegal” – analyzing complicated situations, doing research, and writing up results. These are all things I’m really good at, and that I really enjoy, so I’m intrigued by the idea.

Question 1: Do you have to go to paralegal school for this? Or how do you get into the biz?

Question 2: What’s the job really like? What do you enjoy about it? What’s the downside?

Thanks in advance…

twicks, who’s not really enjoying her midlife crisis

I can only give some indirect information about paralegals. A friend/co-worker decided to switch from being a software engineer to a paralegal. She took a bunch of night classes (there are actual programs for becoming a paralegal), and got her certificate. But when she started looking into actually doing the job, not only was the market pretty bleak (at least here in San Diego at the time), the pay was pretty bad and the work was not all that exciting. Kind of disheartening, but she stuck to software for financial reasons.

From what she told me, there is a lot of “grunt” work research involved. And not so much analyzing and writing up.

The one benefit (if you’re interested) is that you will have a get-out-of-jury-duty card for life :wink:

But given your description of yourself (analytical abilities, problem solving) my first thought was engineering. These are the types of skills that make engineers. Have you considered that option ?

I’m number dyslexic, which makes number-crunching dangerous for me. (I can’t add two three-digit numbers in my head without effing it up. I understand how math works – I scored 87th %ile on math on the GRE 25 years ago – I just have a tendency to reverse digits, etc.)

Plus, I’m 50, I don’t necessarily want to do a whole lot of school at this point.

Cool idea, though – maybe I should close this thread and start a “help twicks find a new career” thread! :wink:

Boring boring boring. Especially corporate law (That was what I did). Low pay and long hours are expected from you. There is the occasional interesting reading, but most of the research is dullsville. And the way cases work, strategy is very fluid. So weeks worth of research is often just tossed aside. So if you’re looking for satisfaction of a job well done, be prepared to have that ripped away.

But then again, I wasn’t cut out for it. It really just wasn’t the type of work I enjoyed. Hopefully someone will come in with a positive experience.

I’m going to draw from my experience working as a legal secretary, as well as the experiences of my paralegal co-workers. I’ll be an actual paralegal come May.

No, but it never can hurt. If you want to make any kind of money you’ve got to have a Bachelor’s, but not necessarily in law. What you might wanna do is get into a little 2 year paralegal program. Considering you’re older and apparently brilliant, you will probably get paid more than your typical paralegal who “just” has a 2 year degree.

Question 2: What’s the job really like? What do you enjoy about it? What’s the downside?

Basically you are being paid to do the attorney’s work for them. You will probably interview potential clients (intake), then report to the attorney so he/she can decide whether or not they want to take the case. If there’s a trial you may go to court so you can make notes and hand the attorney stuff. Ditto for depositions.

You’ll draft Memorandums of Law, which is a fancy term for the “homework” you’ll get when the attorney wants you to research a particular issue. (For example, one of my assignments in my Legal Writing class was to find out how to best sue in WV for a hypothetical client regarding their in-vitro embryos being accidentally destroyed in a lab.) Any kind of Interrogatories, Answers, Motions, etc., will probably be prepared by you at your boss’ request. Once you learn what’s going on in all of your cases, you will be able to anticipate what they’re going to do next.

You’ll keep track of lots of paperwork, unless you have a secretary to do this for you. Maintaining files is crucial. Every bit of correspondence, phone messages, etc. has got to be in there or your boss could get into big trouble. Phone messages, it turns out, are especially important. A lawyer can get yelled at/sanctioned by the Bar if too many clients complain that their phone calls are never returned.

This is my calling, career wise, so I don’t see many downsides. It’s all about your personality. If you end up working for a nice lawyer, given your background you’ll probably really enjoy it. It’s a shame that so much of this job rides on what your boss is like, but that’s pretty much how all jobs are. Some attorneys will treat you like “the help,” others will recognize how important you are and be sweet.

You’re in a big city so finding a job will not be a problem. If you want to analyze complex issues and do lots of research, this is the job for you — as long as you’re not expecting to get rich.

I can’t do basic arithmetic either, and I managed to get a degree in math. It’s not the barrier you might think it is.

But I can certainly understand why going back to school doesn’t necessarily appeal to you.

Thanks, everyone – esp. you, Abbie! It sounds like a field I might want to look into a little more, as far as requirements, job opportunities, etc., are concerned.

NurseCarmen – just out of curiosity (i.e., nosiness) – what field did you move onto after leaving the law firm? What was that transition like for you?

First I went into Advertising Copywriting, then into IT. Now I’m an IT geek at an ad agency. In between those two careers, I worked back at the law firm. Money is money, after all. I’ve never really been bothered with transition. In fact, the two I’ve made were due to me being fed up, so really it was a good thing. I was happy to be out of a job I didn’t like, so whatever challenges I had were easier to accept.

Abbie Carmichael brought up something important. The lawyer I worked for was a supreme ass. So that likely had something to do with it.