CALS is a paralegal school that has specialized exclusively in the education of paralegals since opening our doors in 1987.Read More
Whether you’re interested in a paralegal education or already a paralegal, you may be wondering what jobs are available for paralegals. What if you are not interested in working as a traditional paralegal? Are you looking for something different, but don’t know what else you can do with a paralegal certificate or degree? Here are just a few related jobs that applicants with paralegal training can branch into:
Do you enjoy reviewing contracts? A contract administrator makes sure the parties involved practice due diligence and comply with the terms, conditions, rights and obligations of a contract. He or she also coordinates any changes to the agreement that might occur over the course of the contract and performs the closeout process when both parties have met their obligations. If you loved your Corporate and Business Law class, then this may be an area of interest for you!
The great debate
When employers look to hire a new employee, which do they believe is better—education or experience? Does book knowledge outweigh hands-on experience? Or would a “seasoned” employee be a better addition to the team?
Those on the education side quickly cite various statistics on the impact of education on a person’s future, employability, and earnings. Yet, those who lean to the side of experience always bring up famous college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Someone with a formal education and considered “book smart” may easily deal with real-world work situations. However, they may still have a hard time landing that first job if they lack experience. On the other hand, the person with experience but lacking any formal education may do well in certain positions. However, they may find it difficult to advance professionally in their chosen career.
By Thomas B. Swanson, J.D.
Let’s take a look back in time…
During most of the history of the practice of law, legal documents were handwritten by skilled paralegals first known as scribes and later as scriveners. Legal documents during this period were customized, and the quality of the handwriting, in addition to the content, was important. In other words, legal documents were distinctive, in part, because the handwriting added an artistic quality. Beginning in about 1900, this was to change in a major way with the introduction of the typewriter.
The typewriter offered not only much greater efficiency with respect to the preparation of legal documents, it also established a much greater uniformity. The distinctive handwriting of the scrivener gave way to a new consistency in format and a greater focus on content. The result was no less than a transformation of the practice of law, as well as the role of the paralegal. The “Perry Mason/Della Street” era in the history of law practice had begun, and the legal secretary became the primary non-lawyer presence in the law office.
A change in skill-sets…
When I became a paralegal in 1984, it was very common for paralegals to sit at their desks all day with their headphones on and type a variety of documents such as motions, pleadings, and correspondence, dictated by an attorney via the Dictaphone. The role of the paralegal has since evolved from secretarial typists or transcribers to highly qualified staff members who perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.
Since the paralegal profession has evolved to include more substantive legal work, those wishing to become a paralegal usually seek formal training to gain the legal knowledge necessary to work alongside an attorney. But in order to really excel in the paralegal profession, there are several characteristics and skills that are important to possess and develop in addition to legal knowledge. After working as a paralegal, I went to law school and became an attorney and employer of paralegals, so I’ve seen first-hand the characteristics and skills that make a paralegal exceptional. Here are 5 things that every attorney expects from his or her paralegal:
By James I. Wiedemer, Attorney at Law and Center for Advanced Legal Studies’ Real Estate Law Professor
I really don't want to go to trial without a litigation paralegal. It's just too hard to stay organized and fight hard without one. One of the key things a litigation paralegal does is "man" the trial notebook. It's sort of like manning the main gun on a tank. It's a key weapon at trial. I’d like to share a couple of thoughts on good trial paralegals and good trial notebooks— the two, in my book, are virtually synonymous.
Winston Churchill once said of one of his key staffers: "He knew everything. He could lay his hand on anything. He said nothing. He had the confidence of all." Paralegals need to be a lot like Winston Churchill's staffer. Although they don't get to testify or present at trial in a verbal sense, nevertheless they are key fighters in the case. They know everything, and they can lay their hand on any paper. Here are 6 tips every paralegal needs to know about the trial notebook.
...And One Possible and Practical Solution
According to a survey conducted by Reuters, “More than 40 percent of recent U.S. college graduates are underemployed or need more training to get on a career track.”
The survey also discloses that more than 25% of these graduates have already enrolled in a Master’s degree program. The perception that a master’s degree will satisfy the need for more training is valid provided the degree is skill-based; otherwise, if the degree is more philosophical in nature, the graduate might still need more training to gain a career.
Another public opinion survey that was released by Northwestern University and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education stated that “American adults and employers want colleges to produce graduates who can think critically and creatively and can communicate orally and in writing.”
Having a network of professional contacts and colleagues is a huge advantage in today’s working world. It gives you a support system full of people who do the same type of work you do. It provides a group of knowledgeable people to contact if you have any questions, concerns, or need to refer someone or obtain a reference. And we all know it’s easier to find employment or grow in the position you have when you “know people.”
But how does one build their professional network? At Center for Advanced Legal Studies, we want our students and graduates to thrive in their paralegal careers, and that includes growing their professional network and always sharpening their knowledge and skill-set. But that’s not always easy. Maybe you’re like me, and networking doesn’t come quite as easily to you as it does to some of our more extroverted colleagues. But everyone can make the conscious decision to pursue building his or her network. Here are 3 simple steps to help augment your career with a strong network of legal professionals.
As a speech professor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies, at the beginning of each semester, I tell my students in the AAS Degree paralegal program that one of the goals of the speech class is for them to find their voices. By that, I mean that I want them to discover their true way of expressing themselves, whether it is humorously, poetically, or perhaps with an authoritative tone they didn’t know they possessed.
I also point out to them that they are each born with certain qualities to their physical voices that they may or may not like. Of course, it is possible to change the physical voice. Actors, for example, besides ridding themselves of accents, often work with a coach to lower their voice or make it more resonant or vibrant, and they learn breathing techniques that help with vocal projection.
Vocal Viruses are Infectious Habits
Why, then, when we put so much focus on sounding good, would people deliberately adopt weird vocal habits that are unsettling to the listener? Currently, for example, vocal “fads” exist that make the voice sound gravelly, childish, and whiny. There is even a grating vocal style known as “tattered voice,” heard in both male and female actors and voiceover artists. These people sound as if they have been up for three days straight, chain smoking and drinking Everclear.
As an Admissions Advisor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies and a retired attorney, I always ask prospective students what qualities or attributes they possess that would make them a good paralegal. Many times I hear:
“I love the law, which I think will make me a good paralegal.”“I enjoy legal research.”“I enjoy reading.”“I am punctual.”And of course: “I am fairly organized.”
A love of the law, reading, punctuality, and research skills all contribute to a person’s ability to become a successful paralegal. Above those, organization is key to excelling both as a paralegal student and as a working paralegal.
Organization skills are vital to be an effective paralegal. They facilitate a paralegal’s ability to create and manage calendar systems, track court dates, and meet filing deadlines. Additionally, legal research materials, such as case law, must be organized in a method that they can be easily navigated and retrieved. Documents in a legal case are useless unless they are properly filed and indexed so that the documents may be pulled quickly and easily.
But how does one become organized? Whether you are already a fairly organized person or lacking in that department, organizational skills can always be developed and improved. Here are 4 simple steps to becoming more organized, and ultimately becoming a more efficient paralegal!
As someone who helps graduates find employment, the one question I get asked the most by students is “How am I supposed to gain experience when most employers won’t hire without it?” Students in all schools face this dilemma when they near completion of their education. Even students in paralegal programs. So, how can you gain work experience when no one will give you a chance?
At Center for Advanced Legal Studies (CALS), students have the opportunity to complete an externship at a law firm or legal department in order to gain experience they can include on their resumes. But not all schools provide this experience. If not, don’t get discouraged. Stay positive and pro-active. Here are 5 ways you can escape the proverbial Catch-22 between experience and employment. (Note: this blog post is aimed specifically toward paralegal students/graduates, but can apply to all college graduates!)
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