Becoming a paralegal is an important personal step that is the start of a new career. Whether you’re planning on trying a local school or opting for the flexibility of paralegal schools online, it’s a serious time investment that could impact your entire life.
Before you commit to a paralegal certificate program, here’s what you have to consider.
What Will I Be Doing?
That might seem like a silly question, but common knowledge of a paralegal’s job often comes from some inaccurate sources, such as movies, TV shows and other works of fiction. It’s vital to know what your daily job will really entail because you are looking at the long-term, even if you plan to become an attorney yourself in the future.
In a general sense, a paralegal’s job is to make the lives of their attorneys easier, and the work you will be doing the most will depend on your supervising attorney’s needs. Duties include helping attorneys during trials, preparing trial notes and/or legal briefs, doing legal research, organizing the case files, and sometimes even handling witness and client interviews.
Try some in-depth research of your own. Check out your local paralegal or legal professionals association; they will often have members available to talk to people who are interested in the position. Look for the experiences of paralegals in your area on social media and forums.
What Do I Need to Develop?
Getting a degree from a school or a certificate from paralegal certification programs will prepare you on the education side of things, but they are not full substitutes for experience. By working on the skills you need to develop beforehand and seeing the job in action, you’ll be more at ease when you start working as a paralegal and simply more prepared.
Organization is huge in the paralegal field, and it’s a part of just about every successful paralegal’s skill set. The sheer amount of documents and information you’ll be handling makes organization necessary if you want to stay on top of things. If your organizational skills are anything less than stellar now, work on improving them right away.
Other skills you may need to hone are verbal and written communication. Since paralegal work often involves drafting documents and typing letters, your spelling and grammar will be on display, and your attorneys will expect both to be up to par. Verbal communication is relied on all the way around, from client interactions to working with other staff, so you don’t want any confusion there.
Last but not least in a paralegal’s job is research. You will likely be expected to do all sorts of research, including legal research, so make sure you’re strong in this area and familiar with all the tools that are at your disposal.
The work a paralegal does is directly tied to the work of their attorneys, so the firm’s practice areas do impact the job experience. If you’re not certain about what field of law you want to work in, check around and see if local firms are willing to let you shadow for a day or even intern. Seeing paralegals work in the various fields can help you decide what area of law you’re most interested in.