I stumbled into the legal field by chance; however chance has provided me with a great career as a paralegal. I hope my experience may help other single parents who are thinking about ways to pursue a rewarding career in the legal field – it can be done.
I became a mother when I was very young. As a young single mother I wondered how I would be able to go to school, and have a career that would allow me to provide a comfortable lifestyle for both me and my son. When the opportunity to attend a paralegal certificate program landed in my lap, I literally jumped at the chance.
As a child, becoming an attorney was something I’d always considered. I understood the legal assistant profession to be a cross between an attorney and a secretary. I knew that I could get my education in a short amount of time, and that the options for a paralegal were endless, from working for in-house counsel on internal company policies to working in criminal law.
I landed my first paralegal job the same way I landed my paralegal education – by a chance opportunity that fell into my lap. In all honesty, after going to classes and completing an internship, I really didn’t know what a paralegal did in the real world. Later in my career I would learn that what paralegals do really varies by the size of the firm and the area of law, but when I landed my first gig working for in-house counsel of a large insurance company, I felt sort of like a deer caught in headlights.
After the first week as a paralegal, I realized that I loved the job. Every case was different and every project was different. I got to review and summarize records, prepare subpoenas, draft discovery, and even talk to clients on the phone. Not only that, but I had the freedom to set up my work day in a manner that worked best for me. Of course, I had to prioritize tasks that had to be done in order of importance, but I generally had a lot of control over my cases. I could organize databases or documents in a way that made logical sense to me. I truly had ownership over my work.
I got to do fun things, such as go to NASA for a site inspection, wear a suit, and go to client meetings. My attorneys brainstormed with me and put a lot of trust into my opinions and ideas. They relied on me to know my cases and to be their right hand. And I was and often still am.
In less than five years I doubled my salary! I made more than my friends who had more education and I truly was able to provide for my family. There is something very empowering about knowing that you don’t need anyone to take care of you, or at least that’s something that makes me feel empowered. It also provides me with freedom and peace of mind to know that I had the ability to build a good life for my son and myself.
In the past 12 years I have had the opportunity to work with many really wonderful (and some less than wonderful) attorneys. I have gone to trials, testified in trials, and been able to learn about so many different things. As each case is different, there are always things you learn. I love that each case is different, so I am always doing something new. I love having control over my cases and knowing that my work really makes a difference, even if only in some small way.
Of course, not every project is exciting. Some are painfully boring. There are times when I’ve worked 12 (or more) hours multiple weeks in a row, and when I’ve been frustrated with a case, an attorney, or an assignment. But really what job doesn’t have the less glamorous parts?
I know my experience is unique to myself. Not every paralegal will have the opportunity to go to a trial, or to have client contact, or to attend attorney meetings. Some paralegals will only do data entry work, or only prepare subpoenas for medical records. Other paralegals will do legal research, draft briefs, and create trial presentations. The wonderful thing about this line of work is that you can fit it to your personality and interests.
Laura Heinz writes for ParalegalCertificates.org, a career and education resource where professionals seeking legal support education can learn more about the paralegal job description or find and compare paralegal schools.