If watching TV shows like Law and Order or old Ally McBeal re-runs has you thinking you would love a career as a legal assistant, you may want to look into the real world of one before entering the paralegal job market.
Working as a paralegal can be interesting and very rewarding work, but no one should enter the field with delusions of becoming an Erin Brockovitch. Here are some of the qualities a good paralegal should have:
1. You must love research. Not only must you love it, you should be the kind of thinker who can find innovative ways to find facts as you research cases. Maybe your research will require surfing the Internet for days on end, or you may find yourself neck deep in old files at the county courthouse. You may even find yourself searching through old newspaper articles. If you do not like research, find a different career choice.
2. You must be organized. As a paralegal, you are not only organizing cases and files for yourself; you are also organizing them for use by attorneys and other case workers. Having your own system of filing will not work for a successful paralegal. Your organization must be logical and easy for others to follow. Remember, all the research you do could either make or break the client's case.
3. You must work well with limited supervision. If you require a boss standing over your shoulder reminding you that your work is due soon, don't consider a career as a paralegal. For one, the attorney or business person you work for will not have time to be your deadline reminder. And, don't expect that just because your boss says you have two weeks to complete a case file that he or she won't say they absolutely need it two days later.
4. You must work well under pressure. As you gather research about a case, little facts could pop up that change the entire course of your research. If you get frustrated easily, being a paralegal might not be the career choice you should make. An adaptable person succeeds as a legal assistant.
5. You must have good people skills. Just because your job might mean doing a lot of research doesn't mean you won't have vital contact with clients. As a paralegal, you may take statements from clients and help direct their questions and concerns to the attorney. You are their liaison with the lawyer. It's important that you like to help people and can work with a diverse group of people if you work as a legal assistant.
If you have the above qualities, you would probably make a great paralegal. If you have those five qualities, plus having training or certification as a legal assistant, the world will be your oyster. The training will set you apart from all the other people who also have the same qualities. Twenty and 30 years ago, no one had formal training as a legal assistant. All those paralegals are preparing for retirement now and their employers will plan to replace them with a trained professional instead of offering on the job training again.