Paralegal Job Description:
The law firm I work for specializes in regulatory matters regarding the FDA and the USDA, specifically representing clients such as medical device manufacturers, drug companies, trade associations, and agricultural interests. I begin my day by searching newspaper outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times for news articles that are relevant to the firm, and pass them along to all the attorneys. After that, every day is different. Some examples of the things I do are to research sites like Westlaw for attorneys, search government websites for information, etc. I also spend a lot of my time physically delivering documents to government offices, courthouses, or embassies.
Can you describe the steps in your career as a paralegal?
After I graduated from college, I knew that law school was a definite option for me, so I applied to a bunch of law firms in the Washington, D.C. area to get a better idea of whether the legal field was something I wanted to start a career in. I didn't have any special skills, but my degree in political science helped me develop writing skills that are necessary to my job. I actually procured my job through an alumni networking site.
How did you decide to pursue paralegal jobs?
I never really was a big fan of those lawyer TV shows. It really began when I was in middle school, my parents always used to joke that I was going to be a lawyer or a politician because I would try to argue and debate everyone at the dinner table, no matter what the topic was. Even if I didn't know anything about what I was arguing, I still loved to do it. And then in high school we had this mock court-type program called Teen Court, and I really loved it.
It involved actual cases usually dealing with teens shoplifting, and they were judged by a jury and lawyers of kids all the same age. I really liked the feeling I got from helping those kids out, and it confirmed to me what my parents had always joked about. I did not want to jump right into law school, so spending a year or two as a paralegal seemed like a good idea. My older brother is an associate at a law firm, but we are, as far as I know, the only members of my family in the legal profession.
Do you have advice on the qualifications to become a paralegal?
If someone is still in college I would recommend getting an internship or a legal assistant position during the summer while an undergraduate. If you are not in the process of receiving your undergraduate degree, I would recommend enrolling in a paralegal certification program, which usually lasts about a year and teaches you valuable skills to be a paralegal. I would also recommend researching as many law firms as you can to find one that fits what you are looking for, and be able to speak intelligently if you are asked to interview.
What is the paralegal job outlook?
I think the outlook is good for paralegals right now. There's always going to be room for lawyers in this country, and as such, there will always be positions for others in the legal field. I think the Internet had a huge effect on the role of a paralegal, with so much information readily accessible online. But I still think it's a good time to start a career as a paralegal, because more and more people are going to law school, which means in the future there will be more of a need for assistants and secretaries and support staff.
What factors affect a paralegal salary?
I think there are three main factors in determining paralegal salaries. Obviously, experience level is very important. The second most important factor is the kind of law firm you are working for. Small firms will pay a lower paralegal salary than a large litigation firm might. Thirdly, I think location is very important. Firms in big cities like New York and Los Angeles usually pay a greater paralegal salary than the smaller firms in smaller markets.
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