For every theatre director there is a steadfast stage manager and for every President of the United States there is the White House Chief of Staff; for every successful lawyer and attorney there is a highly skilled paralegal whose duties, contrary to what some may believe, far transcend clerical work.
There is no typical day in the life of a paralegal as it depends on the lawyer’s or firm’s current caseload and the type of law being practiced. But there are some common duties that translate across all paralegal professions.
Jamie Collins is a paralegal for a personal injury law firm. She shares, on About.com, that some of her tasks include meeting with clients, lawyers and members of the court system, drafting legal proceedings, reviewing and preparing medical timelines and discovery responses, writing demand letters and completing any assignments the lawyers she works for may need. “On a day-to-day basis, I do the work that needs to be done to move each file along the litigation pipeline toward settlement or trial”, Collins shares.
One of the most fulfilling moments for Collins was when she was instrumental in helping win a wrongful death trial. The plaintiff had been killed by a police car driving to a scene at top speed without the siren or emergency lights on. During the trial, while the relevant officers were testifying, Collins was able to review the depositions on the spot, looking for inconsistencies, and come up with vital questions that she passed onto her attorney. The jury took notice and was captivated by the whole questioning process.
Sophie Walton has been a paralegal for at least 20 years. On CollegeToolkit.com, she shares that in addition to legal research, client interviews, attending trials with attorneys and drafting legal documents, she acts as bookkeeper, office manager and IT expert for the small law firm where she is employed. She loves the fact that her days as a paralegal are so varied and involve many skills and tasks. Walton recommends that to be a competitive paralegal in this continuously thriving field, it’s important to complete a degree in paralegal studies from a school approved by the ABA (American Bar Association); she also advises prospective paralegals to become certified through either NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants) or AAPI (The American Alliance of Paralegals Inc.).
Some paralegals choose to eventually become lawyers after the valuable experience they’ve gained working with attorneys. In fact Ken Husserl, the Chair of the Paralegal Department at Berkeley College, reported that approximately half of his students decided to pursue law school (Source: The Legal Decree, The American Institute for Paralegal Studies’ Alumni Association). Husserl interviewed several practicing paralegals and paralegal graduates and heard positive experiences about their choice to become lawyers. One of the comments he received was, “Paralegal school before law school was the best thing I ever did. I had all the basic skills (research, briefing cases, legal writing, practical experience) I needed before taking the classes in law school, so things were much easier. Plus, I have contacts…in the legal community which will help me when I begin searching for a clerkship and later for employment”.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for paralegals continues to grow at a rate of 18% through to the year 2020. Whether you choose to become and remain a paralegal (a fulfilling choice for Collins and Walton) or eventually become an attorney, you will be starting an intriguing, diverse and essential career.