Legal dramas are common-place on television and film. I think most people dream of the chance to yell “I object, Your Honor” at some point. Likewise, who can’t recognize the gavel sound effect from Law & Order? However, I always questioned how these thin, gorgeous attorneys were able to manage their caseloads. They seemed more preoccupied with their stormy love lives than on meeting with clients. I always imagined the team of paralegals working behind the scenes to keep these fictional firms running. The work a paralegal does for a firm is invaluable, yet often goes unrecognized. So, we talked to some paralegals to shine a spotlight on these unsung heroes.
Why is Your Job so Tough?
People do not immediately think of becoming a paralegal when they think of a career in law. Maybe this is due to a lack of McSteamy paralegals on TV. There is a catalog of McDreamy doctors and lawyers on television, but no paralegals. Olivia Pope has a team of litigators and a master hacker/assassin on her team, but no paralegal. Olivia’s team could not do half the work they are responsible for if a good paralegal was not helping them.
Not all paralegals are Erin Brockovich, nonetheless their contributions to a firm and the community deserve celebration.
The demand for paralegals is huge in the U.S. and it keeps growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of paralegals will grow by 8% from 2014 to 2024. Now is the time to enter the field. We even wrote a handy guide for paralegals to help you create and improve your résumé.
As a paralegal, you will always be in demand. However, this also means you will have a lot on your plate. Paralegal work is repetitive, stressful, and time-consuming. Worst of all, your work might go unappreciated by the people you are helping.
Stress and Respect
Most of a firm’s grunt work falls in the lap of a paralegal. This is especially true if you work for a small firm. You will handle a lot of secretarial work. People tend to forget just how much work paralegals do. I doubt if anyone in the firm works harder. This is the nature of the job, regardless of the size of the firm or the legal field you work in.
You can expect to do more real work as you gain experience and seniority. However, if you are starting out expect to do repetitive and boring work. Data entry, billing, writing briefs, etc. will all be tedious work. Nevertheless, the tasks are necessary to keep the firm running. This makes you a superstar! You are the backbone of the firm and will contribute to its success. Don’t forget that or let others forget it either.
Luckily, practice management software like PracticePanther is making those tedious tasks easier and faster to finish. So, there is a way to simplify those tasks and open up more time for the work you care about. Additionally, more firms are relying on contract or virtual paralegals as they automate their firms with new technology. By using case management software you can work from anywhere at any time. Working virtually will mean you have the freedom to set your own hours, work from home, and cut your stress. You could even open your own virtual paralegal firm to help attorneys across the country.
One of the biggest disadvantages of being a paralegal are the long hours and stress that come with the work. Meeting deadlines is crucial for attorneys so they avoid a bar complaint. Paralegals need to make sure an attorney goes into trial fully prepared. You are also dealing directly with clients, drafting pleadings, and doing research. All this work would be daunting for anyone. Yet, you are a superstar because you are able to keep up with it all. You are under pressure, but paralegals like you get all this work done to make lawyers look good.
Yes, lawyers get to have the “I object!” moment in court. But, your work made that moment happen. Part of the reason I am writing this article is to prove that paralegals are not background players or glorified extras. You know your value to the firm. I want to make sure others don’t forget that value. Stress is not helped when you feel underutilized or underappreciated.
You are a pro. You have training, a degree, and comfortable work shoes. There is growing respect for the work you do in the legal field. It may have come slowly, but attorneys are realizing your leading man/woman potential. Be proud of your work and the purpose your work gives you because it is valuable.
Sacrifice the Fancy Titles
Paralegals who work for a solo or small firms should expect to work directly with an attorney. As such, there is little chance for career advancement. Larger firms with big legal departments offer the opportunity to advance in rank to a senior paralegal position. Beyond that, do not expect fancy titles in this career track. However, you should not overlook the significant impact you will have on the lives of your clients. In some cases, you will literally and metaphorically hold a client’s hand through a case.
By the nature of their work, paralegals have extended contact with clients. In some cases, you will be intimately familiar with a client’s personal life. You might have to deal with a client going through a difficult time in their life. Family law paralegals, for example, will guide a client through often distressing divorce and custody proceedings. You will help people draft wills, get compensation for their injuries, or file an immigration application. Some paralegals help the most vulnerable people in our society find justice.
Regardless of the legal field, paralegals have the opportunity to help clients in profound ways. We love the scene in a movie when an attorney gets the innocent man off. A paralegal will be instrumental in making that scene happen in the real world.
A supporting actor’s work is not simply to make the lead look good. They are a part of the team that makes the entire movie great. Paralegals deserve more time in the spotlight. Their jobs are tough and important to a firm. We are thankful for their work and we will keep our spotlight on them.