Should I be a paralegal?

Working as a paralegal can be a great fit for someone interested in a legal career without the time commitment of law school. Online paralegal programs are available nationwide, as is on-campus training, and it takes significantly less time to complete than the bachelor's degree and juris doctorate lawyers require. Paralegals don't practice law, but they have substantial responsibilities and work closely with lawyers.

Paralegal careers are among the most popular in the legal field, and they're appealing to job-seekers because of their projected growth and salary — both of which are above the national average. For many, the hard part is figuring out whether a career as a paralegal is a good fit for them. We spoke with faculty members from the University of San Diego and the University of Illinois at Springfield to get their take on that question.

What advice would you give to someone considering the question 'Should I be a paralegal'?

Deborah AnthonyDeborah Anthony, M.A., J.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Springfield

You should meet and talk with persons working as a paralegal and/or legal assistant. Paralegal roles can vary widely depending on the type of organization and area of law. Paralegals are employed in law firms, corporations, government offices, and non-profit agencies. Individuals who thrive in a fast-paced environment may be suited to litigation roles, which the more studious may be more comfortable in a transactional, corporate role.

Some paralegals have considerable client contact and work closely with attorneys. You should identify your strengths and interests to compare with typical responsibilities and duties of the paralegal position.

Tara Murphy, Esq., Director of Graduate Career Programs, University of San Diego

Paralegals serve important roles on legal teams, whether they work in law firms, corporations, courts, government agencies, or other entities. Completing an American Bar Association approved paralegal program, like the certificate program offered at University of San Diego, opens the door to a variety of exciting careers in the legal industry.

Paralegals are trained to perform many of the same tasks that young attorneys perform in law firms, such as drafting documents, performing legal research and corresponding with clients. As a result, law firms can hire paralegals to deliver high quality, cost-effective services to clients. A paralegal education also provides a great foundation for many other types of work where familiarity with contracts and legal processes is vital.

Who would you recommend pursue a career as a paralegal?

Deborah Anthony, M.A., J.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Springfield

Individuals who are detail-oriented, logical, and analytical make excellent paralegals. Many paralegal positions require administrative and organizational skills. Paralegals must be able to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing. A person who enjoys learning about the law and likes to solve problems will find enjoyment and satisfaction from a career as a paralegal.

University of San DiegoTara Murphy, Esq., Director of Graduate Career Programs, University of San Diego

A paralegal career is great for someone who wants the stimulation and challenge of working in the legal field but may not want to invest the time or resources required for a law school education. The certificate program at USD can be completed in as little as 14 weeks, or students can work at a slower pace.

Paralegals also typically enjoy a greater work-life balance than attorneys. Billable hour requirements are lower, and paralegals are not tasked with generating new business.