The Pros and Cons of the Paralegal Profession

The paralegal (also known as legal assistant) profession is one of the fastest growing professions at this moment. In the past several years, it has become a profession that requires higher education levels than ever before due to the onslaught of new technologies.

By having a legal assistant prepare first drafts and do the research pertaining to a case, the lawyer can charge much less than if they had to do the work themselves. A paralegal will perform many of the important tasks that pertain to a legal case.

They investigate the facts, gather all pertinent information, identify appropriate laws, and review past case law and judicial judgments. They will prepare documents to initiate a legal case, write letters to clients, request documentation from relevant sources, as well as write up reports that the lawyer may use to determine how the case should be handled.

But make no mistake about it, there are cons to the paralegal profession. The following are the most common:

1. A legal assistant could be required to work long hours, often beyond your normal nine to five job.

2. A paralegal will perform lots of research and spend lots of time writing up their findings.

3. The legal assistant profession at this time has no regulations or certifications by law to monitor their actions.

With regards to certification, one can choose to become certified voluntarily. It is a good idea to get paralegal certification because it shows that you are a qualified professional to prospective employers. You can get the Certified Legal Assistant Certification (CLA) through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Even with the cons associated with the paralegal profession, there are many pros as well.
The following are the most common:

1. The legal assistant field offers numerous challenges and can be very rewarding.

2. The average salary for a legal assistant can range from $25,000 to $55,000, depending on location, education, and type of agency that a paralegal is employed.

3. A legal assistant can be employed by a governmental department, private practice, a large law firm, a corporation, or any number of places that require the services of an attorney.

Today the paralegals career prospects and opportunities have never been so superior. However, nowadays the paralegal needs to be trained in a variety of specific areas. A legal assistant that holds an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree is in a more advantageous position to be employed by a governmental agency or a larger more prestigious firm than a person that does not hold one or the other of these degrees. A legal assistant that has their degree can also demand a better salary.

Becoming a legal assistant can offer the exciting challenges that you may be seeking in your career. Paralegals earn excellent earnings and it is a fantastic career for those that are concerned with aiding someone in need.

It is definitely a career worth looking into. If you are interested, you need to explore it further. You should visit websites that cover the profession in more detail.

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Using Social Media – Today it Takes a Village to Succeed in the Paralegal Profession

Most of us are familiar with the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” The phrase brings to mind a large and generous network of people, not just parents, but relatives, teachers, neighbors and mentors, working together to produce healthy, happy children who grow up to be productive members of our community – and go on to guide the village’s next generation of children.

Today it takes a village to succeed as a paralegal. The legal field has changed radically from even the practices we were familiar with five years ago. The ways that firms manage documents, exchange information, advertise for clients and hire new employees are evolving at a pace faster than the speed of light. Paralegals, including new paralegal graduates, are expected to stay abreast of the latest technological, practice, marketing and hiring trends.

That’s when paralegals need to turn to their own village, their co-workers, colleagues, mentors and experts in the legal field. But how do we reach out to them and ask questions, especially if we work full-time, raise families and try to squeeze even more education into our crowded schedules? We aren’t going to get mentored while eating lunch at our desk every day – or are we?

Using social media (simply defined as internet tools for sharing information) is key to enjoying the support of our village, and to giving support in return. Social media is key to building a network of legal and related professionals who know what is happening now, and who are smart enough to forecast the future of the legal field. Social media is absolutely key to surviving in a recessionary economy where many of our peers are losing their jobs at record rates, even the ones who thought they were safe.

I’m going to paraphrase a quote that has been circulating on Twitter recently, “You need to build your network BEFORE you actually need it.” It’s too easy to sit in our offices, comfortable in our expertise with the current firm technology, comfortable with getting clients from the same familiar sources, and maybe too comfortable that after a decade or more of working for the same employer that we’ll never need to look for another job. This is the kind of complacency that can leave us without a job, struggling to learn new skills, and not only redundant, but non-competitive.

Our village is the key to our evolution as paralegal professionals. Our village has many open doors and many hospitable and knowledgeable members sharing information every day in numerous places on the Internet, including blogs, social networking sites, listservs and forums. For paralegals interested in growing their own networks and resources, here are a few of the basic types of social media that you should explore and use regularly.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/) is a free professional networking site. It’s an essential online resource to publish your professional credentials and to build your professional network. Most career experts recommend creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile, especially if you are (or may be) seeking new employment opportunities.

There are many LinkedIn Groups for legal professionals, including those particularly geared to paralegals. They offer opportunities to not only increase your network of contacts, but to participate in discussions started by members of the group, or to start discussions of your own.

Twitter

Another free social and professional networking site, I’ve found Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/) to be invaluable for greatly expanding my professional network, and to keep up with “real-time” news and technology updates. Twitterers are limited to 140-character updates, which means news, information, questions and answers are delivered rapid-fire and continuously.

Not only is there a wonderful community of paralegals already utilizing Twitter, but there are many other kinds of legal professionals providing extremely informative content (I like to call it “great Tweet”), including attorneys, marketers, legal nurse consultants, virtual assistants, legal publications and legal groups.

Blogs

Legal professionals need strong writing skills, and many of them direct those skills to now essential legal blogs that provide up-to-the-minute information regarding the law, specialty areas and technology. Identify those blogs most helpful to your current practice and future goals, and then spend a few minutes a week reading current posts – a fast and free form of continuing education (Twitter has brought amazing blogs to my attention that I would otherwise never have known about).

Two excellent legal blog directories are ABA Journal’s Blawg Directory and USLaw.com Law Blog Directory.

In addition to participating in your state legal association listservs, consider joining one or more of the national paralegal listservs, including:

Legal Assistant Today-Forum
Paralegal Gateway (Yahoo! Group)
Paralegals (Yahoo! Group)

Don’t be intimidated by the frequent postings; you can always receive posts in a weekly digest form or direct listserv posts to a folder to read later.

Benefits of listservs include the opportunity to engage in longer “conversations” with paralegals all over the country and to quickly get answers to questions, especially in the areas of legal research, technology and career-building.

Use social media to be a part of our village, a group of amazing, knowledgeable and generous legal professionals committed to the success and enrichment of the paralegal profession. The best part is, you can enjoy the benefits while eating your lunch at your desk.

Book Review – The Lawyer’s Song: Navigating the Legal Wilderness

In his 2010 book entitled “The Lawyer’s Song: Navigating the Legal Wilderness” (“the Song”), Hugh Duvall sings a heartfelt tune about what it means – and what it ought to mean – to be a lawyer. Written from the perspective of a lawyer-litigator, the Song is intended to reach two main audiences. For non-lawyers, the Song is meant to provide “a window into the complex intellectual, emotional and ethical frontier of [the legal] profession.” For lawyers, it is an affirmation of all that is good in the legal profession – a melody meant to “charge us up and to speed us on our way.” Mr. Duvall performs to both audiences with admirable aplomb.

A quick and engaging read, the Song pursues its purpose in a refreshingly creative style. Each chapter (or verse) focuses on a key theme of legal practice; and each is presented in two parts. The first is a vignette of a story set in 1842 Oregon in which a woman hires a guide to lead her through the backcountry in search of her husband. With the chapter’s theme as a springboard, the second part dives into a non-fictitious account of the various ways in which the issues presented in the vignette affect the day-to-day lives of present-day lawyers.

Within its verses, the Song sings of the hard realities of legal practice. These include the risk and challenge of law school, the long lonely hours of legal practice, the anguish of a case fought and lost, and the betrayal of a thankless client. These darker notes are important for any law student or aspiring lawyer to hear – especially one bedazzled by the gloss of legal practice as it appears on the big screen.

Floating above the bass register are the treble notes of the more ennobling aspects of legal practice. These include the sanctity of the lawyer-client relationship, the humility of faithful service, the decorum of loyalty, and the thrill of victory. These higher notes give the Song a more edifying tenor for those who are uncertain or otherwise cynical about the inherent dignity of a legal career, or those otherwise in need of affirmation.

As much as the Song serves to demystify some of the realities of legal practice, at the same time it also serves to enshroud it in a cloud of romanticism. For example, laced into the narrative are some pretty rosy assumptions about what it is that drives people to pursue a career in law. As Mr. Duvall puts it:

Ours is a profession to which we were called. We were always aware of its presence. The feeling. The thought. The notion that we would become lawyers…It was one’s essence. One’s being. There was no real choice involved at all.

It would be nice if this were true. But the reality is that all sorts of people go to law school (and eventually become lawyers) for far lesser reasons. Some go to law school to please their parents. Others go because they want money, security and prestige. Still others go because they don’t know what else to do with themselves. Yet once on the conveyor belt, the pressure to identify as a lawyer gets stronger and stronger. Years later, well into their careers, all too many wake up and realize that what they are doing is not their calling – that this is not their song.

The romanticism of the Song also surfaces in other verses. For example, in the verse about “passion”, Mr. Duvall notes that “[w]e cannot meet the rigorous challenges we regularly confront without passion for our work.” Lawyers, just like anybody else, are much better equipped to do their jobs when fuelled by passion. Yet the truth is that on the whole lawyers aren’t exactly known for their passion for their work. In fact, many plod their weary ways through their entire careers without much enthusiasm for their jobs at all.

While Mr. Duvall may be romantic, he is not blind. As he notes, many lawyers do such things as “take shortcuts to the prejudice of the client”, “make as much money as possible”, “gain attention for personal aggrandizement”, and “run a business as opposed to a law practice.” It is clear that Mr. Duvall is fully aware that such “imposters” exist among our ranks; the simple fact of the matter is that they are not part of his intended audience.

While such “imposters” may well not deserve admission to Mr. Duvall’s performance, I contend that they constitute a third audience that must not only attend, but also listen extra carefully. For it is to this audience that the Song carries a special – albeit implicit – message. And that message is this:

If you are not in harmony with the basic values of your profession, you must do something about it or your career and life will ever be dissonant.

In listening to the Song, should anyone find themselves scoffing or otherwise rolling their eyes in cynicism at its lyrics, then it may well be that they belong to this third audience. Should they recognize the special message the Song has for them, and should they be inspired to take corrective action, Mr. Duvall will have truly outdone himself.

Bravo, Mr. Duvall!