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.