Paralegal schools want enrollments, so it’s easy to understand why they present the paralegal profession in a certain light. But after they’ve got you enrolled and you’re in the paralegal certificate program, it would be helpful for you to also hear the downsides of being a paralegal so that you can be better prepared for your new career. That would also help you figure out whether you want to use your paralegal certificate working in a law firm or look at alternative options for paralegal careers.
Here are five things that new paralegal students should consider if they are choosing a paralegal career path.
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1. Paralegals Don’t Make Much Money Starting Out
New paralegals don’t make a lot of money. You will likely make a higher salary if you go to work for a larger law firm, but the problem is that it’s harder to get that job at a larger law firm. It is easier to get an entry-level paralegal position at a smaller law firm, but they typically offer a lower starting salary for new paralegals. Check out my podcast episode on paralegal salaries.
The 2021 average paralegal salary (for all experience levels, practice areas, employer type, etc.) is $53,910. That’s $25.91 per hour AVERAGE, which means the average starting salary for a new paralegal is MUCH LESS than that. Hopefully, that will be going up soon as law firms figure out how to deal with the staffing shortage.
2. Being a Paralegal is Stressful
A paralegal job is stressful and most of you will work long hours under that high level of stress. It’s just not the type of job that you go into the office at 9, take an hour-long lunch, and leave at 5. Some of the stress and long hours will depend on the lawyer you work with, the organization you work for, and the practice area you work in. A word to the wise: if you absolutely have to be out of the office no later than 5, either to pick up the kids at daycare or something else that’s not flexible with time – do NOT choose the litigation practice area.
Back when I used to work in a law firm, I regularly worked 60-hour weeks. I rarely remember a time when I didn’t work at least one day over a holiday weekend. Now, I was rewarded nicely for that – BUT, it was at the expense of missing time with my daughter that I’ll never get back. It was at the expense of family and friend get-togethers.
When you’ve got an out-of-town trial starting next week and you’ve got to work 12-hour days setting up the remote trial war room, you just don’t have the option to say you’re not available and you have to get home to take your kid to soccer practice.
ARE YOU NEW TO LITIGATION?
You can fast-track your career with our 3-Step Roadmap to Manage Cases Like a Rockstar Paralegal! If you are new (or fairly new) to litigation, this free guide will help you get a handle on your cases and be able to anticipate what the attorney needs before they ask for it.
3. Your Paralegal Role Will Not Look Like Meghan’s on the Suits TV Show
Some days, a paralegal’s job is boring, monotonous, and mind-numbing. Paralegals get to do all of the things that attorneys don’t want to do. The amount of time you spend on that kind of stuff becomes less and less as you become more experienced and the more you prove yourself. Even then, there will be some things that will be monotonous.
You are not going to be spending your days writing those IRAC-method memos like they teach you in that Legal Research & Writing class. I can tell you that in the last 29 years, I have never written a memo like that. And I was lucky enough to get some high-level work throughout my career.
I remember in my paralegal certificate program, one of the things that I enjoyed so much was this moot court competition that we did. We argued an appellate brief in front of a few professors who were the judges. That was after researching, writing the briefs, then arguing the briefs – it was part of the class. Do you know how many times throughout the last 3 decades I needed to know how to argue an appellate brief? Yah. None. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy that moot court competition. But maybe that classroom time would have been better spent on teaching me how to put together a trial notebook, or what a paralegal actually does in the courtroom?
4. It’s Not Going To Be Easy To Land That First Paralegal Position
They should also tell you that it’s going to be hard to land that first position as a paralegal. In this current market, it’s much easier than it was a few years ago. But from a school’s perspective, they really need to stress the importance of a perfectly-written resume, an updated LinkedIn profile, online and in-person (when possible) networking, and applying for the right position for you.
Here are some paralegal job search advice we’ve published in other articles:
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5. You Don’t Learn Paralegal Skills in Paralegal School
You are not learning the skills that it will take to be a great paralegal. What you are learning is the foundation stuff: the terminology, the theory, the civil rules of procedure, contract law, etc. But you’re not learning what you will be actually be doing on the job.
This is no different than any other career. When a lawyer graduates from law school they don’t know how to do everything they will be doing as a new associate.
When your friend graduates from college with that business management degree, it doesn’t mean they know how to open and run a successful business. They have the foundation to get them started.
If you’re at your first paralegal job and you’re sitting at your desk some days saying “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be doing here – you’re not alone. We all said the very same thing when we first started.
Meet the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.
Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. Her training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.
When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.