Are you thinking of building your career as a paralegal? Whether you are just starting your career and have chosen this path or are thinking of making a career shift, an informed decision is always the best. As with a lot of professions, there are a heap of myths and misconceptions about being a paralegal. In this article, we will uncover these paralegal job myths and debunk them.
After reading this, you are going to walk away with a clearer understanding of this profession which will help you make the best decision for your career path. To start off, let’s talk a bit about the basics of this profession.
Who are the Paralegals and What Do They Do?
Typically working behind the scenes under the supervision of an attorney, paralegals assist in the preparation of law cases. This job involves tasks such as legal research, drafting legal documents, conducting client interviews, locating witnesses, conducting witness interviews, and so on.
The paralegal’s career is not confined to working in law firms. These professionals can also work for corporations and business organizations like health organizations, banks, and insurance companies. They can also be employed by the government.
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s debunk the most common paralegal job myths!
Myth #1: A Paralegal is An Attorney’s Secretary
Some people think that paralegals are just there to push papers and answer phones – that they are in charge of menial tasks that attorneys do not have time for. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Paralegals and attorneys perform many similar duties, making a paralegal’s job challenging and mentally stimulating.
The only difference is that the paralegal works under the supervision of the attorney. Therefore, their work product becomes a part of and is aligned with the attorney’s work product for the client. Moreover, paralegals do not take the case to court to represent the client.
Paralegals are vital because they allow attorneys to delegate responsibilities which they would have otherwise taken on all by themselves.
Myth #2: You Don’t Need a Diploma to be a Paralegal
It’s true that a graduate certificate would suffice as your first step to becoming a paralegal – as long as you enroll in an accredited paralegal education program. However, to have a competitive advantage in the legal industry, getting a diploma would be the way to go. The legal industry would tend to prefer college-educated paralegals who have this type of credential. So though a diploma is not needed per se, you definitely need it if you want to increase your chances of getting hired in a more prestigious firm, getting paid better, and growing your career faster.
Myth #3: This Career is Only a Stepping Stone to being an Attorney
Another paralegal job myth is that paralegals are always either aspiring lawyers or frustrated lawyers. But this again, is false. Becoming a paralegal is an individual’s career choice. It is not a stepping stone to becoming a lawyer or attorney – nor is it necessarily a fallback plan.
As we’ve mentioned in the first myth, paralegals and attorneys do, in fact, share plenty of similar responsibilities. However, paralegals do not have the responsibility of representing clients and giving legal advice. This means paralegals do not need to pay malpractice insurance.
Furthermore, paralegals enjoy a relatively more balanced lifestyle with less stress and less late night works – while still being able to pursue their passion for law. Although this also means that paralegals don’t make the same amount as attorneys do, some would say that the trade-off is more than worth it.
Myth#4: To be a Paralegal, You Need to Memorize Statutes and Laws
Let us set the record straight. Not even attorneys and lawyers who have been required to study for countless hours for the Bar and have had years of industry experience have all the statutes and laws memorized in their heads. If you think about it, that’s just too much information to cram into someone’s brain.
Moreover, since the law changes every now and then, memorizing law is not really a sustainable practice. Sufficient familiarity with the law, however, is needed to effectively do legal research and to construct legal arguments. These skills are far more valuable in a paralegal’s line of work.
Myth #5: It’s Okay for Paralegals to Give Legal Advice
Thanks to the name of the profession (having the word “legal” in it) mixed with a general, shallow understanding of the profession, the friends and family of a paralegal would sometimes throw questions at them regarding their own legal matters. It may seem harmless and completely fine, in such a scenario, for the paralegal to respond with their “take on things.” However, this could be seen as a major ethical breach. Therefore, paralegals would be wise to refuse answering and simply redirect questions like this to a licensed attorney.
Myth #6: Paralegals Spend a Lot of Time in Court
Another common misconception is that paralegals spend long hours in court with the attorney. In truth, paralegals don’t get much (if any) time in court – but this can vary depending on what area of law the paralegal specializes in. Most of a paralegal’s work hours are spent behind the scenes in their office, preparing legal documents, interviewing clients, interviewing witnesses, doing legal research, and so on. Paralegals spend most of their time contributing to the efficiency of the law firm that they are working for.
Myth #7: Being a Paralegal is Boring & Slow-Paced
The legal industry is one of the most fast-paced environments out there. Some would call it exciting and some would call it stressful. But being completely objective about it, this industry is deadline-driven, high-pressure, and some days can be extremely busy.
Another factor to consider is that paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney who is ultimately responsible for the final work product. Most delegated tasks are urgent and of great importance; therefore, attorneys are understandably impatient and demanding at times and this may add a degree of stress to the paralegal’s job.
Myth #8: Being a Paralegal is a Nine-to-Five Job
Paralegals aren’t always required to do overtime. However, there may be some days that they need to put in the extra hours when deadlines need to be met, when extra preparation is needed for a trial, when their supervising attorney needs something urgent, and so on.
Myth #9: Paralegals Know About All Areas of the Law
Just like lawyers and attorneys, paralegals also have their own areas of specialization. A few examples of common specialties include administrative law, family law, bankruptcy, corporate and business law, criminal law, and real estate law.
Take the Next Step to Becoming a Paralegal
Excited to pursue a career being a paralegal? If you’re interested to learn more, here are a few other resources that we have that will help shed some more light on this profession:
If you’re ready to take the next step, we’re here for you. Cestar College in Toronto is one of the top accredited institutions to provide you with the thorough paralegal training program that you need to succeed. Got any questions for us? Feel free to reach out and we’ll be more than happy to help!