What's a paralegal do exactly?

What’s a paralegal do exactly?

And is there a such thing as a paralegal with a Philosophy Ph.D. but without some kind of professional certification?

And what do they make? Like $30,000? Or is that ridiculously high?

Purely factual inquiry of course. No, no, it would have nothing at all to do with anyone’s personal situation. Nothing at all. Don’t even ask.

(Okay, just to be a little polite and explain:

You see, there are no jobs in Philosophy right now. Being honest with myself, I see that the most vastly probable situation is that I’m going to either become a permanent adjunct, or I’m going to do something other than academic Philosophy.

Honestly, I actually wouldn’t mind being an adjunct if I could do it full time. I really like teaching! But there’s no room for any kind of advancement of any kind. It’s just not a nice way to live an entire career. So I’m looking… elsewhere.

I asked about paralegals because some things I’ve heard and read seem to me to suggest that a lot of the skills I have as a philosopher match a lot of the skills you might need for that kind of job. Except I am not sure I have a clear idea what that job is.

Of course, one immediately notices that my skills are pretty relevant to lawyering itself. And in fact, I’m going to take the LSAT in December and am applying to law schools as well, just to see what lands. But apparently jobs aren’t so hot in law land these days either, and moreover law school even with a full ride still requires student loans for living expenses and I’d just better not take out any more student loans. So even if I can get into law school–actually I’m pretty sure I can–it’s not clear that’s the best option for me right now.

But legal work sounds fun, or at least, not such that it will fail to allow me to use the parts of my brain I like to use. And paralegals do legal work, right? Even if it’s unappreciated? Hey, I’m way used to unappreciated, believe me. Anyway, I’m just struggling to find options.)

Is this page accurate?

I believe it depends on what state you are working in whether or not you’d need the paralegal certificate mentioned in your link. The work paralegals do varies wildly from completely mindless to fairly complex, just like paralegals vary between wildly incompetent to extremely knowledgeable.

In my opinion, paralegal work is arduous, thankless, with long hours but should be required of people who want to become lawyers. $30k a year sounds fairly low, but again, that depends on where you are.

I don’t think that now is a good time to go into the legal profession unless you’re at the top of your game, but that could all change in three years when you get out of law school.

I think it really depends on the firm (obviously), but perhaps more helpfully, I think it also depends on the size of the firm. Before law school, I was a legal assistant at a BigLaw firm. A lot of the more tedious chores that paralegals at smaller firms are responsible for, we were absolved from. We had a docketing department to file pleadings. We had our own secretarial pool separate from the attorneys. We had an in-house 24-hour copy shop to do our copying or scanning and so forth. We had free dinner and cab ride home if we worked past 8. We had a weekly happy hour with an open bar.

But it’s BigLaw! So all the substantive legal work, no matter how drudgey, was done by attorneys. There’s no shortage of junior associates to do doc review or legal research. (I’d also add that another reason is that companies take more routine stuff to cheaper outside counsel or just keep it in-house–that is, another reason that paralegals in BigLaw do far less legal work is that it’s not as often the easier, blackletter law stuff that takes place in smaller shops.)

Now, there are a couple BigLaw firms in Indy–and frankly, if they’re hiring (a big if, I’m afraid), I’d say target them. But you won’t do legal work. But you will do a lot of work, and if they pay OT (as my firm did), I can be a nice deal for a bit. $30K would be low for such a position.

A smaller firm has advantages too. The work will be a little more varied, and will probably come closer to the popular conception of lawyer work. But this is because there is a bit more in the way of form-filling at this level. As usual, actual legal strategy and handling the difficult legal questions will remain with the attorneys. The pay is a good deal lower, but I still think you should be able to make at least $30K. I know that there are some current paralegals on this board, and they should be able to provide you with more up-to-date info.

I have very fond memories of my time doing this, and would recommend it to someone in your shoes. Be advised though, unless your future law school has a class in Bates labeling, you won’t learn very much that is transferable to the classroom.

Missed edit window–
What we did was a lot of data entry: entering facts about court filings and case correspondence and the contents of discovery into a database, as well as preparing various exhibits and witness files and the like from those files.

I can’t comment on the salary structure for paralegals, because I just don’t know.

I’ve worked in several large law firms (as an attorney) and have worked with some paralegals in that context. I can’t comment on what a paralegal might do in smaller law firms or in a government setting, etc. On the page that you linked to, though, several things were not in line with my experience. At the firms I’ve worked for, paralegals did not do any kind of legal research involving case law or statutes or federal agency rules, etc. I’ve also never seen a paralegal prepare a first draft of a legal document of any kind.

Some paralegals do factual research (e.g., background research on a company or a particular product.) I have seen instances where a paralegal attended a public hearing or proceeding (e.g., a Senate committee meeting) and prepared a report summarizing the proceeding. Some paralegals will proofread documents to be sure that the citations to case law and statutes conform to proper citation format (per The Bluebook). Litigation paralegals help attorneys with managing the documents that are relevant to a particular case. When a court filing is prepared, for example, paralegals will assist the attorneys in obtaining copies of the relevant documents that are needed as exhibits to the filing. The documents are maintained in large electronic databases, so that it is easy to locate every document that refers to “X,” for example.

It’s possible to work during the day and attend law school at night. At many firms, a “law clerk” (employee who is also a law student) is generally given more substantive work than a paralegal. Some senior law clerks do legal research and write internal memoranda for attorneys.

I’m a paralegal! Actually, I was a paralegal, from October of 1999 to February of this year, before I got laid off. To answer some of your questions.

  1. Educationwise, I have a masters degree in Political Science. I don’t have a paralegal certification.

  2. I made in the low 40s, but salary depends on a lot of factors…where you are, the law firm you’re at, etc.

  3. What did I do? Well, I worked for a small law firm focusing on telecommunications law, so most of what my firm did was regulatory FCC stuff, and also some contract law, buying and selling licenses, towers, etc. The majority of what I did, then, was to fill out FCC applications and forms. (to apply for new licenses, renew licenses, assign licenses, submit mandatory reports, pay FCC fees and fines, etc.) I also spent a lot of time doing legal research. One of the attorneys would be preparing a pleading, and they’d say, “I’m trying to argue X. Find me stuff that supports that.”, and I’d get on Lexis and look for caselaw that supported it. Or I’d be asked, “Find out who owns the A-block cellular license in these markets”, or “What was the 2000 census population for BTA212?”

Sometimes I spent my days making spreadsheets, or I’d be given a box of folders and told, “Scan all of this stuff.”, and I’d spend 7 hours standing in front of the scanner scanning each page in.

If you want to be a paralegal, I think, you need a few things. You need to be able to read and understand information, and be able to summarize and clearly express that info. You need to have an eye for detail and not be sloppy or careless. You need to be willing to work long hours if need be. (On election day last year, I was stuck in the office until 9:30 pm, after everyone had gone home, waiting for vital time sensitive information from the people on the other side of a deal we were doing, only to get a call then that they wouldn’t have the info until the next morning.) Beyond everything else, you need to be thick skinned, because attorneys get overworked and stressed, and can’t take out their frustrations on their clients, or on the firm’s partners, but they can take them out on you.

A paralegal is like a Physician’s Assistant or a Psychologist— they weren’t good enough to become an Attorney, Doctor, or Psychiatrist.

Frylock is already a Doctor.

I don’t believe this is true at all, and frankly, I take a little bit of offense to it. I could have gone to law school if I had wanted to. The work a paralegal does is different than the work an attorney does; it’s a separate skill set, and while I can’t do all the things an attorney can do, there are also things I can do well that an attorney can’t.

I think the fact that St. Anger apparently doesn’t know that all psychiatrists are M.D.s and that psychologists require Ph.D.s tells us all we need to know to assess accurately the worth of his opinion on this matter. Especially with its weird and inappropriate capitalization.

And I quite agree that a great many paralegals would make excellent attorneys, and that that reasons for not going are often very understandable (including that not everyone thinks the life of a lawyer is something to aspire to). Just as many engineers, financiers, journalists, or software developers would make great attorneys–but their interests lie elsewhere. (And, of course, many attorneys could make terrific engineers, financiers, journalist, or software developers as well.)

That is completely false. People have different life needs and priorities and it often has nothing to do with talent. I am thinking about making a career change from IT to become a nurse, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. I have a stellar academic background including Ivy League grad school including some medical school but I don’t want to be a doctor. I have two small children and I want to be around to see them grow up. Likewise, some people have a real interest in law and may be quite talented in it but don’t want to live in some nightmare law firm world straight out of a John Grissam novel. Don’t judge people for what their priorities are. Life is more complex than just having the highest paying career that you can possibly have even if you have more raw talent than others that pursue those things.

Thanks for the comments so far, everyone.

To clarify one thing, I don’t have the Ph.D. yet, but I expect to have one in May. And then I expect to be shit out of luck.

NajaSis is a paralegal and loves it. She gets to do legal-type work but with approximately zero the nightmare (or cost) of law school or working as a practicing attorney. Her hours are completely reasonable, she gets paid relatively pretty well for her level of schooling, and she always has the option to go on to further education with experience in the field if life and desire should prompt her to do so.

She works for a small, family-owned firm and thus has less of the “legal monkey”, “stand here and scan this box of paper” job status that someone in a big firm might. She called me up all chipper the other day because she “got to sue” the capitol city*. :smiley:

*of course not, exactly, but she gets to do a lot of the footwork that would go to baby attorneys in bigger firms.

When was there ever?
I’m still not 100% sure what exactly paralegals do and I’ve been working in the legal field for about 5 years. There are several areas of litigation support professionals that I have worked with. They all sort of blur into each other although they require very different backgrounds:

From what I can tell, the primarily do administrative work to support the attornies. This could be assisting with research, drafting drafts, helping to managing document reviews and productions and so on. They typically work in law firms or legal departments.

Litigation Support
Somewhat more technical that mere paralegals, litigation support professionals will help the attorneys with managing the large volume of data acquired during the discovery process. They may help manage the software vendors and organize documents to be produced (printed) for court. They also typically work in legal departments or for independent firms that specialize in providing these services. People in this field typically come from an IT background or are paralegals and lawyers with a technical aptitute.

Litigation Management Consulting
Educationally equivalent to attorneys. They typically have MBAs, advanced degrees or extensive backgrounds in legal, law enforcement, accounting, finance and so on. Their job includes forensic accounting, fraud investigation, performing valuations, advising companies on electronic discovery trends and processes, acting as expert witnesses and other activities. They typically work for independent consulting firms like the Big-4 or smaller speciality firms.

Invoking Gaudere’s Law here.

Argue the point, not the grammar, please. Nit picking someone’s grammar is a weak argument. Especially when it is completely unneccesary and perhaps even incorrect to use periods in “P.h.D.s” and “M.D.s”.

And yet Kimmy Gabler, Shagnasty and Frylock all managed to use periods in Ph.D. and M.D. correctly, while you don’t.

A friend who works as a paralegal tells me it’s like being somewhere between a secretary and a lawyer. She does a huge amount of work to help the attorneys prep their cases, briefs, motions, etc. She often gets stuck working until nearly midnight on big cases, or if there’s a deadline and somebody decided to add a bunch of exhibits or something at the last minute.

The paralegal experience will vary widely depending on what kind of employment situation you land in. In my state, some paralegals represent clients in social security hearings and other administrative matters.