Career change - Paralegal

livviesmom

Cathlete
I am looking at making a career change after working in the management field for 10 years. I have my BS in Business Management but am looking into an AS in Paralegal. Any paralegals or lawyers that could give any advise on pros or cons on this type of degree and career change?
 

melagras

Cathlete
I've worked in the legal field as a legal secretary/paralegal for about 25 years now.

First, I hope you have thick skin. Attorneys can be very abrasive and some are just downright rude. If you can't handle that on a daily basis, don't get into this field.

Second, you must be able to think fast on your feet, work just as fast and be accurate.

Third, at the larger firms paralegals are required to bill almost as many hours as associate attorneys and their pay raises/bonuses are based on whether or not you met your hours for the year.

Fourth, where I live, legal secretaries make more money than paralegals. So you might check into the salaries where you live to see if this option would be better for you financially.

Fifth, several of the paralegals I have worked with in the past didn't have a degree. You just need to get your foot in the door and prove yourself.

I'm not trying to discourage you - just telling it like it is.
 

Aquajock

Cathlete
I've worked in the legal field as a legal secretary/paralegal for about 25 years now.

First, I hope you have thick skin. Attorneys can be very abrasive and some are just downright rude. If you can't handle that on a daily basis, don't get into this field.

Second, you must be able to think fast on your feet, work just as fast and be accurate.

Third, at the larger firms paralegals are required to bill almost as many hours as associate attorneys and their pay raises/bonuses are based on whether or not you met your hours for the year.

Fourth, where I live, legal secretaries make more money than paralegals. So you might check into the salaries where you live to see if this option would be better for you financially.

Fifth, several of the paralegals I have worked with in the past didn't have a degree. You just need to get your foot in the door and prove yourself.

I'm not trying to discourage you - just telling it like it is.
That.

Although I've been a paralegal for over 13 years now and landed in an employment sweet spot, I think the field has become much riskier for career changers especially since the downturn in the economy made many law firms and environments downshift.

I would suggest, rather than getting your AS in paralegal studies, you instead check out getting an MBA, after deciding on a specific post-MBA management focus. I believe you'd get a much greater ROI in terms of time AND money.

A-Jock
 

UNLVCrjChick

Cathlete
Lawyer and former paralegal here. What everyone has said is spot-on. However, I recommend that you really research this career and maybe even get some work at a law firm before making up your mind. If I had done this prior to entering the field, I would have left, for sure (I don't enjoy the stress, long hours, little reward, and horrid pay - yes, not all lawyers are rich).
 

tennisgirl

Cathlete
I was a paralegal for 22 years until I was downsized in January to a legal secretary. I have sent my resume to numerous firms and no one is hiring. If you do find a job it is very stressful with little or no thanks from the attorneys. You are expected to have alot of billable hours and any raise or bonus will be based on those hours. You are also expected to work long hours, staying late or coming in early and even on weekends.

Dispite all of this I miss my paralegal job because I really liked what I was doing. I worked in employment law and now I am hoping to get a job in Human Resources but at my age, 57, it is very hard.
 

UNLVCrjChick

Cathlete
Seems like there is some bad mouthing and resentment of attorneys here. Please understand that I've been both a paralegal and a lawyer, and being a lawyer is a lot more stressful and difficult than being a paralegal. We too don't get respect from the partners of the firm, are given little to no guidance, and our licenses are always on the line whenever we file a pleading or appear in court. Under those conditions, maybe you could understand why some lawyers are the way they are: *I'm* certainly not that way and appreciate it whenever a paralegal/secretary makes my life a little easier.
 
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Aquajock

Cathlete
Seems like there is some bad mouthing and resentment of attorneys here. Please understand that I've been both a paralegal and a lawyer, and being a lawyer is a lot more stressful and difficult than being a paralegal. We too don't get respect from the partners of the firm, are given little to no guidance, and our licenses are always on the line whenever we file a pleading or appear in court. Under those conditions, maybe you could understand why some lawyers are the way they are: *I'm* certainly not that way and appreciate it whenever a paralegal/secretary makes my life a little easier.
That.

There are good and bad co-workers or managers in any profession. I have had the blessing of working with and for very talented attorneys who treated me with great respect as well as with high expectations for the volume and quality of my work. Before getting hired in a full-time permanent spot, however, I also temped in several law firms and saw first-hand some pretty awful environments. Law offices are like all other offices, only more so . . .

A-Jock
 

JT

Cathlete
A friend of mine is a corporate paralegal and loves it although she had a difficult time with a private law firm.
 

diane57

Cathlete
I've been a paralegal for over 30 years and have worked for a very large international firm, smaller firms, and sole practitioners. Here are my thoughts:

1. I am in California. Here, to work at a major law firm, they still almost always require both a college degree and a certificate from an accredited paralegal program. Smaller firms and, especially, sole practitioners may require only one or possibly neither.

2. I would still be at a big firm had I not been downsized about 15 years ago. It was stressful, you do have to bill your time, there is quite a bit of red tape, but on balance, for me, it was worth it. I have friends who are still paralegals at this firm, their base salaries are over $100,000, their bonuses are $3,000 - $5,000-ish, great benefits, retirement plan, 15 days vacation to start increasing to 20 after 10 years, etc. You do get used to billing your time and you learn how to account for everything you do. I am in estate planning and trusts, so I think our department was treated more tenderly as far as billables - it is much harder to bill your time in corporate or estate planning, you are working on lots of relatively small cases. By contrast, the litigation paralegals could spend all day working on one case, and at the end of the day they could charge all of their billable time to that one case. Still, having billables for me was not that difficult.

3. After leaving the big firm I worked in smaller firms and for sole practitioners and have had 2 layoffs, 1 can't-stand-them situation, 1 I-think-they-hate-me situation, 3 really good jobs for really great lawyers. I now work for a locally famous elderlaw attorney, make a little more than half of what I could be making at a big firm, with no benefits, but I have a flex-time 4-day schedule, work close to home, do not have to bill time, etc. So it balances out.

4. Even after the Great Recession or whatever we just had, I saw paralegal lots of ads and had a few headhunters calling me. At least in California, paralegals are important to attorneys, we do work that they do not do, we keep them organized, we know the court rules and the forms, etc.. While the attorneys do the creative thinking and do things in the larger world we execute the smaller tasks and keep them on track.

5. To be a good paralegal, you need to have a natural love of organizing things, be good with deadlines, good with the computer, enjoy paperwork, be comfortable being behind the scenes, not need too much social interaction during the day. It suits me perfectly but would not be for a go-getter extravert

6. For me, it has been a good career. I do not love my work but it suits me, I like the office environment, it is true some lawyers are obnoxious but an equal number have been kind, gracious, great bosses, supportive, consistent, respectful, etc.

Good luck with whatever you decide :)
 

RapidBreath

Cathlete
Lawyer and former paralegal here. What everyone has said is spot-on. However, I recommend that you really research this career and maybe even get some work at a law firm before making up your mind. If I had done this prior to entering the field, I would have left, for sure (I don't enjoy the stress, long hours, little reward, and horrid pay - yes, not all lawyers are rich).
I have also heard this from friends in the legal industry.
 

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