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Ten Common Questions on a Paralegal Career

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What kind of financial aid is available for paralegal students?

This varies from state to state and from program to program. Some programs may offer scholarships

and loans. You should contact the individual program for this information.

Can a paralegal have his/her own business card?

A paralegal may have business cards with the firm's name appearing on it. His/her status as a legal assistant must be clear.

How does a paralegal sign his/her correspondence?

A paralegal must never represent himself/herself as an attorney. He/she may sign his/her name on the letterhead stationery of the law firm when he/she identifies himself/herself as a paralegal or with any other title the firm has assigned to him/her.

When choosing a program, how important is American Bar Association approval?

American Bar Association approval is a voluntary effort initiated by the paralegal program. When you are evaluating and comparing paralegal programs you should be considering both the type of program (baccalaureate degree, associate degree, certificate, or diploma), and the law library, faculty, and placement assistance. Since the American Bar Association approval signifies certain high legal standards set by the ABA, attorneys will often rather employ graduates of ABA approved programs.

Do law schools accept paralegal courses for transfer credit?

No. Law school is a completely separate entity from paralegal schools. There is no transfer of credit.

I am a legal secretary who graduated from a paralegal program. Now that I have paralegal training I no longer want to type. What do I say at the job interview when I am asked if I will type on the job ? Will I have to take a salary cut?

Many legal secretaries take paralegal programs to upgrade their positions. Since this is common, most employers of paralegals are aware that some of their applicants will have paralegal training as well as excellent secretarial skills.
First, it is important to realize that many legal secretaries in major law firms have higher salaries than those of paralegals. In fact, a legal secretary with excellent skills can command a salary in the mid-twenties in a large corporate law firm. The reason for this is that his/her skills are measurable, whereas paralegal skills are conceptual and procedural. You can point out to a prospective employer that you have gone through a fairly rigorous program of study and paid tuition to become a paralegal, and that like most people who go through that type of training, you are anxious to use your new skills.
A large law practice cannot use a paralegal effectively if the paralegal types for the attorneys as well as performs paralegal work. Therefore, most of these offices have legal secretaries in addition to paralegals, and often have typing pools to handle the typing. A smaller firm, sole practitioner, or a legal aid organization may not have the financial resources to employ both a paralegal and several secretaries. Someone with both paralegal training and good secretarial skills would be an asset to such a practice, and you might be hired over someone who did not have typing skills.

I suggest that you inquire if the typing you would handle would be yours only or also include the lawyers' typing. When there is a dearth of paralegal positions open in your geographic area, you may have to settle for a job where your paralegal and typing skills are both utilized. Remember, though, you are not wedded to a job, and after gaining valuable experience, you can always move on.

Is there part-time work for paralegals?

There is some part-time employment available for paralegals; however, it is dependent on the size of the law firm as well as the type of law practiced. A smaller law firm or a sole practitioner may find that hiring a paralegal to work two or three times a week suits their needs. Usually this kind of practice will be in probate, estates and trusts, or matrimonial law. For your first job as a paralegal, you are better off seeking a full-time position; there will be more positions open. After you have worked awhile and gained some experience, you will be able to seek part-time employment or negotiate for such a position with your employer.

The lawyers I work for want to train me in a different area of law from the one I studied. What should I do ?

A paralegal training program is merely an introduction to law. Within a classroom setting there is only so much material which can be taught. When you graduate from a program, you will have attained skills which can be applied to other areas of law as well as in other careers. The more you know, the more marketable you will become. If you have the opportunity to become trained in another area of law, by all means do so. You will find that all law is interrelated. Your formal classroom studies will always be of assistance to you while you are being "retrained'' to work in another area of law.

What are some ethical considerations for paralegals?

As a paralegal, you will be performing work which requires legal judgment, but only an attorney admitted to the bar can give legal advice to a client, set the fee schedules, and appear in court.

The responsibilities that a lawyer will delegate to a paralegal will vary from law office to law office. Generally, this is dependent on how experienced the paralegal is and how experienced the lawyer is in using a paralegal. For example, some lawyers will allow paralegals to do legal research, others will not. Some lawyers in states where paralegals are allowed to be advocates will allow the paralegals to represent their clients at administrative hearings, others will not.

Are there continuing education courses for paralegals working in the field?

Continuing education is a necessity for employed paralegals to ensure their competence and success in working in the legal community. Continuing education courses are usually offered as one- to three-day seminars through legal assistant training programs, bar associations, and proprietary institutes whose function is to run continuing education courses for lawyers and paralegals. Seminar topics may include: the paralegal's role in complex litigation, estate and gift tax laws, employee benefits laws, and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Other more specialized seminars may be developed for the preparation of federal fiduciary income taxes, postmortem estate planning, the management of computers and litigation support systems, and new developments in pension plan administration. These seminars are also of interest to the novice paralegal who needs a "crash course" in learning a new area of law in addition to his/her paralegal education. .


About Harrison Barnes
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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

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You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

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You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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