Preparing for life as a paralegal
Work as a paralegal is a step-up from an admin role. Paralegals are expected to work long hours, learn fast, and keep their cool under pressure. Legal roles get glamorised on television thanks to shows like Law & Order and Suits. Though some aspects portrayed on them about life in the legal field are true, the real world is harsh if you’re not prepared.
Workloads are hectic
Some paralegals have come from a secretarial background and already know what to expect. Making the change from legal assistant to paralegal is common and some study for a Diploma while working at the office.
Paralegals do more in-depth secretarial work for the lawyer they work with. This includes a lot of fact-checking, taking notes in interviews with clients, and, of course, taking calls. Lawyers don’t have time to create exhibition items for court or pull evidence; the paralegal does this for them. Law offices are busy settings, with many staff working long hours (40+ weekly). Another ‘step up’ as a paralegal? You mark your hours so the client gets billed.
Are you a people person?
In law, there’s no escaping the person factor – you wouldn’t have a job without it. Legal assistants are the face of the office and interact with clients nearly all day. Paralegals are the same, but they’re privy to meetings and attend trials.
In a Diploma of Legal Services, one unit is called ‘Develop and Nurture Relationships’. Clients come to a legal firm so they can work out a problem. It’s up to the lawyers and their staff to keep their client’s trust. This is also applicable to office relationships; you don’t want to make an enemy at the workplace over a falling-out.
You have limitations
After a long day at work, it’s usual to want to go home and vent to a sympathetic ear. In the legal sector, this is a fine line to walk. A law office is a sensitive environment where most of the goings-on are confidential. Saying something, even by mistake, can be damaging.
Paralegals aren’t licensed to practice law. If a client is waiting on their lawyer and asks for advice, you can’t share an opinion, even if you think it’s a good one. In this situation, you should defer the question to the lawyer when they arrive.