Choosing your profession can feel like one of the most crucial decisions you will make. It’s understandable to second-guess yourself. Shows like Law and Order, How to Get Away with Murder or Better Call Saul may have piqued your interest in the legal realm, but is that interest enough to fuel a career?
Of all the potential courtroom jobs out there, a paralegal career is one of the fastest tracks you can take to your first day on the job. But the time it takes to gain the proper knowledge and training is still an investment. You want to be sure that it’s worth your time.
Take a moment to learn some of the gritty details of working as a paralegal—from the mouths of paralegals and the lawyers who hire them. Use this expert insight to help you make an informed decision.
But first, let’s cover the basics…
What does a paralegal do?
You’ve likely done some research on your own, but it’s always beneficial to have all of your information in one place. What does a paralegal do? Basically, they help their attorneys keep things organized and running smoothly by doing important legal legwork.
Those duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can include assisting attorneys during trials, organizing case files, preparing trial notes, performing legal research, preparing legal briefs and sometimes conducting client and witness interviews.1
“Most paralegal jobs require paralegals to work on contracts, real estate, civil lawsuits and other legal needs,” says Kirk Olson, a lawyer and instructor at Rasmussen University. “One case may require multiple areas of law. For instance, a divorce often requires a paralegal to obtain and review real estate, pension, insurance, business and estate planning documents, not just child custody studies.”
Paralegals are generally detail oriented, organized and efficient. Because duties can vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorneys, they must also be adaptable.
How to become a paralegal
One of the most common concerns for anyone looking into starting in this field is the amount of education needed—as well as how long it takes to become a paralegal. The path to becoming a paralegal can look very different from one person to the next.
But the BLS states that the most common educational path that leads to work as a paralegal is an Associate’s degree, which can be completed in as a few as 18 months.1,2 That said, if you’ve already earned a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in a different field, a Paralegal Certificate program can provide you with the specialized knowledge base you’ll need on the job without requiring more years of schooling—in fact, this Certificate program can be completed in as few as 8 months.2
What to expect from the Paralegal Certificate program
This program is designed to supplement education from a different field. If you already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any area, a Paralegal Certificate program can give you the legal basics a paralegal needs to know while building upon the foundation of general education courses you’ve already completed.
In this kind of paralegal program, you’ll take courses like Introduction to Legal Research, Legal Writing and Law Office Management. Ethical communication, interdisciplinary awareness and emerging technology are important objectives of this program.
What to expect from a Paralegal Associate’s degree program
A Paralegal Associate’s degree program will give you an essential basis for work as a paralegal (as well as other careers) with foundational classes in English composition, math and the humanities. But the bulk of your studies will focus on skill and knowledge areas specific to the legal world and the paralegal duties within it.
Courses like Torts, Contracts and Family Law zoom in on complex subjects in the legal realm, while other courses such as Computer Applications and Business Systems Concepts, Legal Writing and Legal Research help you build the critical skill sets paralegals need.
A Paralegal degree will provide you with the skills needed to succeed in the field, but there will be a host of things you won’t learn until you’re on the job. For some additional insights, we asked paralegal professionals to share the things they wish they’d known before starting their careers.
What is a paralegal career like?
“You will work hard and long hours, but it's worth it,” says paralegal and Rasmussen University Justice Studies instructor Julia Gordon. Gordon explains that paralegals carry a lot of weight on their shoulders and every detail matters.
“There is no room for error in tracking deadlines and working with court scheduling,” says Kevin Queenan of The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. “Mentoring legal assistants, I hear the same issue every time: I did not know you meant that detail oriented!” Queenan emphasizes that miniscule mistakes can have big consequences in the legal world. Having a bad day won’t cut it as an excuse if your mistake costs the firm a case, or worse, accusations of malpractice.
Yet, Queenan points out, people with the right personality can flourish in this position. Paralegals can take jobs with varied daily tasks and experiences if that is what they are looking for. “In a general civil practice ... the legal assistant may be answering discovery [requests] one day and driving out to meet a new client the next day.”
“For those who like more structure or repetition, there are law practices involving cookie-cutter lawsuits and issues. I talked to a legal assistant yesterday, and her last position involved filing 1,000 credit card lawsuits per month,” Queenan explains.
“Don't go into the job with rose-colored glasses,” Gordon says. You might picture working in an office full of driven individuals who want to help their clients fix injustices. But unfortunately, it isn’t always like that.
“Not all attorneys are nice, and not all attorneys are ethical,” Gordon says. “Be aware of your ethical rules and guidelines and never compromise your integrity. Nothing is worth losing your self-respect over. You have your clients’ lives in your hands. Treat the position with the highest reverence.”
What is the average paralegal salary?
While not every aspect of a paralegal’s work is considered glamorous, that’s really no different from most jobs. After all, there’s a reason you get paid to work. But is that pay enough to support you and your responsibilities? That’s up to you to decide.
The median annual paralegal salary in 2021 was $56,230, according to the BLS.2 That’s $10,470 more than the national average of $45,760 for all occupations.2 This is pretty encouraging for a job that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree or hazardous working conditions.
Which paralegal skills matter most?
In this legal career, certain personalities and particular skill sets are better poised for success than others. If you are considering work as a paralegal, make sure you fit the bill by the time you apply.
“An effective [paralegal] must be computer savvy,” Queenan says. She adds that good legal assistants don’t overreact under pressure, are highly organized and care about the small details.
“Being kind and helpful is a good start,” Olson says. But Olson emphasizes that helpfulness won’t land you the job. “Lawyers hire paralegals because a good paralegal will find flaws in documents and assist with billing and other detailed functions that keep a law office working. A good paralegal is a ‘deadline cop’ who keeps the law firm on track.”
Olson says paralegals are expected to catch errors made by others and remind everyone of important dates. “Finding and warning of a deadline that others missed may prevent a loss of a client’s case and may save a $10,000 deductible in a lawyer’s malpractice claim,” Olson adds.
All that detail checking includes spelling and grammar. Olson says paralegals correct citation mistakes, grammar errors and other inaccuracies. Fine-tuning your writing and editing abilities is vital for success as a paralegal—that, as well as technical proficiency.
“A person considering becoming a legal assistant should take the highest level of available training on Word, WordPerfect and Westlaw,” Queenan says. “A technologically proficient [paralegal] will wow their lawyers more often and command a higher salary and raises.”
How to stand out as a paralegal
If you are mentally checking off some of those skill boxes—that’s a great sign. While detail-oriented professionals with strong writing and computer skills are important in this profession, there are ways to stand out even more.
Queenan recommends seeking training in client interactions, etiquette and communication skills since presenting a professional image to clients is incredibly important. Pay close attention to verbal slip-ups—no one wants to hear their legal help sounding careless. You want to make sure you are representing yourself, your clients and, ultimately, your practice as best as you can. This includes being able to communicate in a professional manner.
Additionally, Queenan suggests learning more about research materials on the internet. “We are suing a major manufacturer, and my legal assistant found several articles that were helpful to our lack of warning claims. The information was free!”
Olson suggests asking for examples of finished case files when you take work as a paralegal to see samples of what completed and professional work looks like for that firm. “And be assertive. If something does not look right, insist that it be explained or fixed.”
Are you cut out to become a paralegal?
Paralegals play an integral role in a firm’s success. Every document filed, every interview conducted and every ounce of collected research matters.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to work in the exciting legal world you’re used to seeing on TV, the paralegal profession may be the perfect career choice for you. Not only can it help you pay the bills, but it will challenge you intellectually and provide you with valuable professional experience to reach your long-term career goals.
These expert insights should answer many of your lingering questions about becoming a paralegal. If you're thinking this is the career for you, take a closer look at the paralegal programs that can help you get there. The Rasmussen UniversityParalegal Certificate and Associate’s Degree page can explain more of how to get your legal career underway!
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed June, 2022] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Time to completion is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022. Expert insight remains from original version.
What are some qualities a person should have to be a good paralegal? ›
An indispensable paralegal has an ability to multitask, a strong attention to detail, a willingness to learn, an expertise in organization, and psychic abilities.Why should we hire you answer for paralegal? ›
Why should we employ you for the job? The interviewer wants to know what makes you stand out among the other applicants. "I should be hired for this position because I will be a true asset to your company. I have extensive knowledge in the legal field as well as experience working in various areas of specialization.How would you describe yourself as a paralegal? ›
Tell me about yourself and why you want to be a Paralegal? SUGGESTED ANSWER: “Being naturally someone who has great attention to detail, an inquisitive mind and totally dedicated approach to my work, I believe the role of a Paralegal is one I would excel in.What do you say in a paralegal interview? ›
- Why do you want to be a paralegal? ...
- Why did you apply at this firm? ...
- What has your paralegal experience been so far? ...
- Are you planning to eventually apply for law school? ...
- What areas of law are you interested in the most? ...
- What are your legal research skills?
- You must love research. ...
- You must be organized. ...
- You must work well with limited supervision. ...
- You must work well under pressure. ...
- You must have good people skills.
One of the most important roles of a paralegal is to assist their attorney in preparing for trials, hearings, and closings. A large part of this consists of conducting legal research and gathering relevant information to the case.How do you answer in one sentence why should we hire you? ›
Explain how your experience, skills and attributes make you the best fit for the job as it pertains to the company and position for which you're applying. You should address each of the requirements listed in the job posting, as well as any additional qualities that make you a great fit.Why should I hire you best answer example? ›
“Honestly, I possess all the skills and experience that you're looking for. I'm pretty confident that I am the best candidate for this job role. It's not just my background in the past projects, but also my people skills, which will be applicable in this position.What is your favorite thing about being a paralegal? ›
One of the most exciting things about being a paralegal is your limitless ability to learn. Being a paralegal means that you are a jack of all trades. Attorneys will call on you for ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING (trust me).What are 3 duties of a paralegal? ›
The Paralegal (PL) assists with case planning, development, and management, legal research, interviews clients, gathers facts and retrieves information, drafts and analyzes legal documents and collects, complies and utilizes technical information, to make recommendations to an attorney.
How do I prepare for a paralegal interview with no experience? ›
When preparing for a Paralegal job interview, you should think about ways that you can demonstrate your research, organisation, prioritisation and interpersonal skills, as well as legal knowledge and a genuine interest in your practice area of choice.What challenges do paralegals face? ›
They help lawyers by researching case facts, gathering supporting evidence, organizing files, drafting legal documents and contacting witnesses. While their role is important, paralegals encounter obstacles, including time pressure, limited upward mobility, lack of appreciation and limited technological resources.What are the 3 most important tips for a successful interview? ›
- Review common interview questions. ...
- Make a list of questions that you would like to ask during the interview. ...
- Be prepared. ...
- On the day of the interview, remember to:
- Display confidence during the interview, but let the interviewer start the dialogue. ...
- End the interview with a good impression.
- Explore the computer and network. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the office files. ...
- Start familiarizing yourself with your clients. A large part of your first day as a paralegal, will almost certainly be spent answering the phone. ...
- Shadow a colleague.
So practically, consider what you would say within 3 minutes max to explain where you are at at the moment as a professional, then move on to the past and explain your professional journey and educational basis that helped you get to where you are now.Why do paralegals quit? ›
There are a number of answers, including toxic culture in law firms, career burnout, and a desire to move up. Burnout and other stresses may make paralegals feel like there is nowhere to go, but that's not at all true. The law firm isn't the only place for paralegal to work and thrive in their career.What are four things that a paralegal Cannot do? ›
Paralegals must avoid the unauthorized practice of law. Generally, paralegals may not represent clients in court, take depositions, or sign pleadings. Some federal and state administrative agencies, however, do permit nonlawyer practice.Do paralegals have to type fast? ›
In this role, you can be asked to conduct research, document organization, and dictation services. As most law offices are on tight deadlines and schedules, you will need to be fast and efficient. In general, the average typist can type 41 WPM; typing at or above 57 WPM is deemed above average.What are the 5 typical duties of a paralegals? ›
- Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client.
- Locate and interview witnesses.
- Conduct investigations, statistical and documentary research.
- Conduct legal research.
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
- Bankruptcy Paralegal. ...
- Family Law Paralegal. ...
- Intellectual Property Paralegal. ...
- Litigation Paralegal. ...
- Real Estate Paralegal. ...
- Immigration Paralegal. ...
- Personal Injury Paralegal. ...
- Take the First Step to Becoming a Paralegal in California.
What skills do you develop as a paralegal? ›
- to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
- the ability to read English.
- excellent verbal communication skills.
- excellent written communication skills.
- administration skills.
- the ability to work well with others.
- legal knowledge including court procedures and government regulations.
For example, you might explain that you are particularly motivated, or that you are known for going above and beyond for your employers. A second way to answer is to emphasize your unique skills. If you have skills that make you a strong candidate (especially if not many people have those skills), mention these.How do you handle stress and pressure? ›
- Decide what you can do. Pinpoint which parts of the situation you have the power to change or influence for the better. ...
- Get support. Find someone to talk to about your situation. ...
- Care for yourself. Take especially good care of yourself when stress in your life is high.
Try to give some examples while describing your achievements and strengths that make you a good fit for the company. For example, if you are saying that you are good at programming, give an example where your programming skills helped your current or previous company resolve a severe issue.What motivates you to apply for this position? ›
After you show them you're targeting specific things in your job search, talk about what caught your interest. What is this? You could mention details you saw on the job description, on the company website, etc. Show them you understand what their role involves and are excited to be doing the work!What motivate you for this job? ›
- meeting deadlines, targets or goals.
- mentoring and coaching others.
- learning new things.
- coming up with creative ideas to improve something, or make something new.
- analysing complex data in order to draw clear and simple conclusions.
- working well as part of a team.
If you are passionate about helping people
This can be the perfect job for someone who wants to help people and make a difference. You will be playing an important part in people's lives, helping lawyers to build cases that will affect them for years to come.
Paralegal duties would typically involve preparing legal documents, research, admin, providing quotes to clients, interviewing clients and witnesses, giving clients legal information, going to court and handling a caseload of clients.Are paralegal jobs stressful? ›
Being a paralegal is stressful, and paralegal burnout is real. Paralegals work notoriously long hours, and their tasks include everything from office management to doing case research and preparing and editing legal contracts and documents. Paralegal's tasks have a direct impact on the outcomes of matters and cases.Is being a paralegal hard? ›
Stressful and Challenging Work Environment
You may answer to several attorneys at once, each with different needs. Clients, too, can be demanding and difficult. The ability to switch gears quickly and to multitask under pressure is critical to your success as a paralegal.
Can a shy person be a paralegal? ›
Both introverts & extroverts work successfully in the paralegal career.How do you ace a paralegal interview? ›
- Show Positivity. First and foremost, hiring managers look at who will be a good fit for their team, and positive team players are often sought after.
- Dress in a way that commands respect. ...
- Use strong body positioning. ...
- Make eye contact. ...
- Speak slowly. ...
- Turn off your cell phone.
A lawyer is someone who has studied law and has the authority and qualification to practice it whereas a paralegal can work for an attorney but cannot practice law. Paralegals can research cases, file documents and help prepare legal reports for the lawyer they work for.What if a paralegal makes a mistake? ›
All errors should be reported to the supervising attorney. The worst thing you can do is try to cover up a mistake. Regardless of how serious the error is, you are more likely to be written up or fired if you try to cover up the error or fix it yourself.How do paralegals gain their knowledge? ›
Unlike lawyers, who must complete years of formal education and pass the bar exam to practice law, you can become a paralegal in as little as a few months of study. Consider vocational legal training such as a Certificate in Paralegal Practice, or volunteer your time to legal cases and projects to gain experience.Which title is most likely to be not acceptable for a paralegal? ›
Which title is most likley to be NOT acceptable for a paralegal? Associate.What are the 5 hardest interview questions? ›
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why should we hire you?
- What's something that you didn't like about your last job?
- Why do you want this job?
- How do you deal with conflict with a co-worker?
- Here's an answer for you.
Answer “what is your greatest weakness” by choosing a skill that is not essential to the job you're applying to and by stressing exactly how you're practically addressing your weakness. Some skills that you can use as weaknesses include impatience, multitasking, self-criticism, and procrastination.What should a paralegal wear on the first day of work? ›
- A well-fitting suit in a neutral color, such as black or gray.
- A pantsuit or skirt suit.
- Dark tights or socks.
- A collared, button-up shirt.
- A conservative tie, both in color and pattern.
- Closed-toe shoes.
A paralegal is often asked to help with administrative tasks such as filing papers, answering phone calls, and managing client files. Furthermore, paralegals help manage the schedule of an attorney, ensuring they are aware of upcoming client meetings and pending court deadlines.
How do you win the heart at an interview? ›
- Dress for the Job Position.
- Research the Company (and Competitors)
- Research the People.
- Smile All the Way.
- Answer the Biggest Weakness Question.
- Elaborate on Answers.
- Consider Entrepreneurship.
- Here's what I can do for you. ...
- I'm both a team player and self sufficient. ...
- I know how to do the job. ...
- You can rely on me. ...
- I play well with others. ...
- I'm motivated and enthusiastic. ...
- I want this job.
Paralegals are essentially the detail specialists on a legal team. To succeed, you need to be highly organized and efficient with your time. Key roles include researching cases and organizing files of important legal documents.What do you think are the most important skills needed by a paralegal? ›
Top skills you need to succeed as a Paralegal
Excellent communication skills are also crucial, as paralegals interact regularly with clients, experts, vendors, court personnel and of course, lawyers. Strong research and writing skills are also necessary for drafting pleadings, correspondence and other documents.
- Organizational Skills.
- Writing Skills.
- Technical Skills.
- Detail Oriented.
- Interpersonal Skills.
- Understanding Legal Terminology and Documentation.
Some of the most common “traits or characteristics” listed in articles related to this topic include: Highly organized (this is on 99% of the lists you'll find) Good communication skills (another popular “trait or characteristic” associated with paralegals) Excellent research and writing skills.What are the four basic tasks that most paralegals perform? ›
- Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client.
- Locate and interview witnesses.
- Conduct investigations, statistical and documentary research.
- Conduct legal research.
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
Regardless of the dress code for the law firm, I'm a firm believer that when you go to a paralegal interview, you should wear a suit. A suit is professional and demonstrates that you pay close attention to detail and you're committed to your career.What is the value of paralegal? ›
They assist lawyers in research, file management, client and witness relations, and trial preparation. They are also a crucial part of any law firm that wants to work as efficiently as possible. Becoming a paralegal is a meaningful way to start your career in the legal field.What does a paralegal do in simple terms? ›
Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case.
Which of the following are 2 important administrative tasks of a paralegal? ›
Typical job duties of a paralegal:
Manages and organize case files. Drafts legal documents.