Monday, April 25, 2011

What you should know before you become a paralegal: 10 points of caution

I love doing what I do. I recently accepted two mentees to mentor. These are the things I will be telling them as words of caution:

1. The bigger the firm, the more rules there are. Usually, some of the rules make no sense and are there to serve one purpose: make people follow rules.

2. If you have experience fixing electronics, and you are hired into a firm without an IT department, you will become the IT department.

3. In most jobs, lunches and breaks are mandatory and overtime is a luxury when you need to earn a little extra cash.  In a law office, lunches and breaks are luxuries, and overtime is mandatory.

4. You will not like everyone you work with, and not everyone will like you. If that's a problem, move on to the next job. Paralegals are intelligent, strong-willed, territorial, and mostly all are Type A perfectionists. You will be eaten up if you don't fit in with the right personalities.

5. Law is a rewarding profession if you love it unconditionally. The law is not fair, and sometimes judges' decisions, although legally correct, can make you sick to your stomach.  You need to be able to endeavor through those days and come back the next day unphased. If it is something you think you might enjoy, you need to shadow or adopt a mentor to ask questions before you get in over your head. Most local Paralegal organizations can help you contact an established Paralegal. Ask hard questions, like "what three things would you change about your job."

6. Benefits are not what they used to be. Law firms are offering less and less to their employees for retirement, healthcare, and work-based incentives.

7. This job is very stressful. Burn-out rates are higher than ever. You cannot handle stress by "coping" with it, you must be able to "deal" with stress. Do not deal with stress by ignoring it. That won't work.

8. You must be in it for the long haul. You don't get the exciting privileges until you have the experience to handle those tasks. In the first five years of your career, you will learn legal procedure and how to comply with deadlines. If you work near a state border, you'll likely learn multiple states' laws and local county rules and how to apply them. Once you learn the rules of the road, you will be entrusted with more and more complex responsibilities.

9. Organization and multi-tasking are necessary. You will be lost without your own perfect system.

10. Most importantly, in this economy, people are looking for a job with lots of earning potential. No matter how much they pay you, the money is NOT worth it if you don't love the job.


  1. Great post! I agree with you in each point you listed. The only exception is that I'm not a Type A Personality (yet! I may be turning into one). But everything else is right on point.

  2. 11. Lawyers are mostly assholes, at least some of the time.

  3. @Purple: Some people find that the Type A label is a bad thing. I enjoy the label, likely because I most definitely have that personality type. If you're not, more power to you!!

    @Grumpy: Absolutely - at least is right!

  4. I appreciate all your sage advice!

  5. I'd like to offer an addendum to Rule #2:

    2. If you DON'T have experience fixing electronics, and you are hired into a firm without an IT department, you will STILL become the IT department.

  6. Thanks for the information i will take it to heart, i am working on an associates degree in paralegal, next week is my first interview, and i am so nervous...

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  22. Superlegal...

    I'm and have always been a Jack of all trades, including electronics, research, drafting, proofreading, etc. I'm intelligent and trying to find a niche in life. I already have a BS in Psychology, but, aside from going to grad school in Psychology, the future of that degree is dim. Do you, in your professional experience, see me being competitive in the job market for paralegals if I add and AA in Paralegal Studies to that BS?