Balance of Education and Skills Leads to Success in Legal Services

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I've been thinking about becoming a paralegal. Do I need to go to school and get certified to get a job as a paralegal? Are there certain schools that are best to go to? How long is the schooling for paralegals?
Jake M.



Paralegals tend to be a diverse group in terms of education and experience. The largest employer of paralegals are probably law firms, but paralegals support in-house counsel, government agencies and risk management officers. Often positions like case assistant, legal assistant and case clerk are synonymous with paralegal jobs, other times, the term refers to a person with training and a certificate from the Bar Association. The American Bar Association releases a list of ABA-approved paralegal schools, much like it does with law schools, and certain states actually require a paralegal certification. There is no set rule and often advertisements for jobs make it clear what sort of paralegal the employer is looking for. Most training programs are about a year long.

Are there classes offered that teach certain software used in law offices? I would like to broaden my skills.
Christie L. Student.

Yes! There are a great many courses apprising less than tech-savvy legal professionals of the up to date technical advancements in the practice of law. In fact, information technology and database management are fast becoming a part of the law firm environment. Let's open this topic up to our users, any recommendations for courses?

I have a BA but no legal experience. Can I still get a job in a law firm?
Alyssa P.

Sure. But you will most likely start out doing entry-level work and you won't likely be paid much. Although certain large firms will hire individuals with Bachelor's degrees, in a paralegal or case assistant capacity, you'll likely work your way up at most firms. Lots of lawyers start out in law firms after college and then go to law school. They don't necessarily have any relevant experience.

When is the right time to ask for a raise?
Jane L. 3rd year Paralegal

Depends on the firm. If you work for a large and well organized place, raises are probably given out annually after a yearly review and you won't have much leverage. On the other hand, if you work for a small firm, and you sense the financial situation of this firm is stable or improving, and you have gone more than 12 months without a raise, and your performance has been good, then it is time to ask. Most firms will reward good work with raises up to a point. If you are already making more than anybody else in your job category, a raise might not be forthcoming. You always have the option of moving to a different employer if you feel your work is not being properly rewarded. But take into consideration the benefits you are being paid. These count as salary, too. Don't change jobs just because the salary is higher. Benefits should be equal or better as well; and don't forget that often you don't become eligible for benefits until you've been at a new place six months or longer. Finally, once you leave, you give up seniority. So be careful.

Should I send my resume to a firm even if they aren't advertising an opening?
Cecily K. Recent Grad with BA

Yes, by all means. Who knows what will pop up? What do you have to lose? Its is a good idea to research the firm, and figure out what types of employees they usually hire, in terms of education and experience.

I've been in the workforce for five years. I'm thinking of returning to school and earning a paralegal certificate. But I'm having misgivings, as it seems to be a thankless job. What are some of the benefits?
Norma L. Accountant

Whoa! What's going on here? You envision paralegal work as thankless, right? If that's so, how do you expect us to convince you otherwise? There's the old maxim that 80% of the content of any job is boring, but we choose it for the 20% of the job that we like. When we pick a job or a field, it is usually because there is something about it that attracts us. Perhaps it's the ability such work gives us to write, or do math, or interact with people, give presentations, solve problems, or earn a decent living. In one key respect, all jobs are thankless, meaning they go on forever and nothing ever gets permanently resolved; for if it did, there would no longer be any work. When you look at a job or a career, look at the process involved in doing it. If you feel you will enjoy the process you will probably like the job.

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