The road to becoming a lawyer is often longer and more expensive than many students wish to pursue. But if you're interested in studying law, earning your degree in paralegal studies is a solid second choice. With an associate degree under your belt, you can score an entry-level position within the legal system in as little as two years, helping attorneys gather the background information and documentation needed to win lucrative settlements for deserving clients. Working as a paralegal is demanding yet rewarding. You can make it easier for yourself in the beginning by adhering to these top 15 strategies for survival:
1. Know Individual Attorney Styles
As a paralegal, you will function as the right arm of the law firm or lawyers who employ you. You’ll perform valuable tasks, such as research, investigations, and document preparation and management. It will help to become familiar with your attorney's style, such as how they bill, whether they work alone or with a team of other lawyers, and so forth. Learning how your attorney operates and what they prefer regarding legal and clerical work may make you a more valuable asset to the firm. It may also make workdays more enjoyable.
2. Build a Rapport with Your Attorneys
As a paralegal, you'll need excellent communication skills. After all, you may be the first one to interact with new clients. Your relationship-building skills will be one of your biggest assets. You must know how to interact effectively with a range of people, including clients, investigators, police officers, judges, and, perhaps most importantly, the lawyers at your law firm. Building a rapport with the people you work with makes day-to-day interactions more productive and efficient.
3. Remember that Attorneys Are Procrastinators
Attorneys are notorious for procrastinating, and this often translates into long weekends off. However, it may not translate into long weekends off for the paralegals who assist them. The sooner you learn to work independently and anticipate the legal needs of the attorneys at your firm, the more dependable you'll appear. For example, simply because the lawyer for whom you work has not yet appeared in the office, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to wait for instructions. If you know what needs to be done, don't hesitate to take the initiative and do it.
4. Copy All Originals
Legal work is all about documentation. And as a paralegal, you'll be handling plenty of irreplaceable documents that are vital as evidence. For this reason, learn early on to keep originals safely locked away and work only with copies. If someone needs to see a document, hand them a photocopy, and never rely on someone else's honesty or good intentions to ensure original documents get returned.
5. Know Your Stuff
Another way to stay ahead of the game as a paralegal is to remain current on important information, such as statutes, regulations, and laws. Continually expand your knowledge and continue your education in areas you encounter daily, whether taking a night class in real estate law or signing up for a seminar on breakthroughs in forensic science. The more you know, the easier it will be to remain in front of your day-to-day routine instead of constantly feeling like you're rushing to catch up. And your vast knowledge may prove indispensable to the firm.
6. Work Hard and Be Patient
The median pay for this position was $56,230 in 2021. However, because you can begin a career as a paralegal with only a two-year degree and the job is expected to grow at a much faster-than-average rate over the next few years, it's a sound, long-term investment. The longer you work for a law firm as a contributing member, the more they'll rely on your contributions, which can lead to advancement and promotions throughout your career. The key is to work hard, put in your best effort, and be willing to wait for bigger payoffs.
7. In Litigation: Don't Wait to Record Complaints
In the paralegal field, "calendaring" is a verb that means accurately recording and complying with important dates, including dates by which you must file and record complaints to be within the law's legal limits. It's one of the most important parts of the job and permits little-to-no margin for error.
8. Know the Current Court Document Filing Requirements
Deadlines are usually a big deal, but few hold as much weight as legal ones. If you miss a vital file date, the consequences can be grave. It could mean forfeiting the case, a legal malpractice suit for the firm, and even harsher consequences for the client. Missed deadlines can translate into lost or reduced settlements, loss of child custody, home foreclosure, and more.
9. Eat, Drink, Paralegal
When starting out in the field as a paralegal, knowing you can expect to work long hours is essential. This job can be stressful and exhausting, but it can be gratifying. Your skills will sharpen as you build a rapport with your law firm and accumulate hours in court. Eventually, it will all click and become a bit easier. But if you resign yourself to working long hours until you're more established, you might find it easier to power through.
10. Remember that Technology Is Your Friend
Technology is your friend, and that's good to remember because paralegals use technology every day. From performing internet research to using reminder and calendar apps to check and recheck your performance, you'll find yourself on the computer and your mobile device more than you probably anticipate. Therefore, if you're not tech-savvy initially, taking a refresher course in cloud-based research and software programs such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and more is a good idea.
11. Triple-Check Your Work
This is especially true when it comes to calendaring. Missing deadlines is just not acceptable in the paralegal world. It's also crucial to take your time with tasks to complete them thoroughly and do them right the first time. Get in the habit of double- and triple-checking your work before considering it to be done, especially as a new paralegal.
12. Allow Yourself to Be Intellectually Stimulated
Paralegals perform fascinating work that includes interviewing witnesses, talking with experts from various fields, and learning more about the legal industry with every assignment. While your work will be fast-paced and challenging, it will also be captivating. Allow yourself time to experience the thrills that come with paralegal careers, as well as the challenges.
13. Start Your Career with Less Schooling
Unlike other jobs in the legal industry, paralegal careers can begin with as little as two years of college. With an associate degree in a paralegal-related program, it's possible to get a foot in the door at a smaller law firm, learn the intricacies of the job, and build from there. That's a small investment of time and money to enjoy a rewarding and fulfilling future. The Office of Admissions at University of the Cumberlands can tell you more about their paralegal program.
14. Build Up Your Time in the Courtroom
Paralegals are often tasked with supporting roles inside the courtroom. You might set up exhibits, draft and issue subpoenas, and act as the liaison between the client and their team of attorneys. In this supporting role, you'll learn much about how trials and hearings occur. Make the best use of courtroom hours by taking notes and learning all you can regarding courtroom proceedings.
15. Enjoy the Experience You Won't Get Anywhere Else
The legal profession is filled with regulations, deadlines, and industry-specific jargon. As a new paralegal, you'll be in an ideal position to view courtroom proceedings from an insider's perspective. There will be so much to learn and so many challenges to master that day may seem to fly by. Still, take time to enjoy your new position. It's not one everyone can access or master.
If you're ready to explore paralegal careers, learn more about the online Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies at University of the Cumberlands today.