1 Clark College Paralegal Program Paralegal and Legal Assistant
2 2 3 This production has been written and designed by paralegal students. Teresa Clark Yolanda Conde Valerie Ferguson Alisa Mason Peggy Moxley-Prothero Rhonda Lewis Sally Moore Katy Reed Lacey Boyce Ken Burris Marina Burks Amanda A. Shiplet Jill Jurvakainen Brittany Schwerdt Rikyah Sonia Yelena Tkachuk Yolanda Morales Rebekah Andrews Amber Laddusaw Stacey Fentress Laurie Wright Kathryn Cave Degundrea Harris Rhonda Kent Patrick Forrest Layne Russell Director, Paralegal Program
3 4 5 Table of Contents So You Want to be a Paralegal...6 Why is the paralegal field attractive?... 7 Advising Specifically for Paralegal Students...9 Success in School... 9 Clark Association of Paralegal Students (CAPS)...10 Education (after High School) - Program and Degrees Academic Coursework - Paralegal Degree Academic Coursework - Paralegal Certificate Brief Summary in Preparation of Class Load Online Services...11 Online Advising...12 Degree Works Graduation Continuing Education through Associations, Clark College, and More...13 Professional Associations...14 Higher Education...15 In-House Seminars...15 Mentoring...15 Seminar Companies...16 On-line Education Continuing Education through Law School...16 Your Internship What is an Internship? Process of Obtaining an Internship Advice for Your Internship Resources for Obtaining an Internship...24 Employment and Salary Realities Experience and How to Get it! Areas of Practice Salary Ranges Benefits for Paralegals Working outside the Box Alternative Careers Job Outlook Becoming a Specialist Job Flexibility...38 Paralegals and the Unauthorized Practice of Law Why is this rule important to a Paralegal? What constitutes the unauthorized practice of law? How may Paralegals Protect Themselves from UPL?...40 Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certifications What is certification? How to get certified? Use of Certification Marks...41 Frequent FAQ s and Testimonials What if I am having trouble in a class?...42 What if I don t have time for school?...42 Is it hard to find a job after graduation?...42 What does a paralegal s workday consist of?...43 What should I expect from the classes at Clark?...43 Testimonials Contacts Notes... 47
4 6 7 So You Want to be a Paralegal 1 Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of professional persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding both the legal system and substantive and procedural laws which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney. A legal assistant/paralegal cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, set a fee, or accept a case, functions generally considered the practice of law. Working under the supervision of an attorney, the legal assistant s work product becomes part of the attorney work product. In communications with clients and the public, the legal assistant s nonlawyer status must be clear. Your role in the big picture is to Help the attorney and the firm turn out the best work product for the client. A legal assistant may perform any function delegated and closely supervised by an attorney, including but not limited to the following: w Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal assistant, and the legal assistant works under the supervision of the attorney. 1 References: w Locate and interview witnesses. w Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research. w Conduct legal research (identify appropriate laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases). w Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings. Paralegals may prepare written reports that attorneys use to determine how cases should be handled. w Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony. w Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney. w Paralegals also organize and track files of case documents. w And more. Professionally, a paralegal s time for substantive legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way as an attorney s time, but generally at a lower hourly rate, making the paralegal s employment cost-effective for clients. Why is the paralegal field attractive? First, while good paying and secure jobs are becoming more difficult to attain, the demand for paralegals is anticipated to grow according to the Bureau of Employment Statistics. 2 2 Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations.
5 8 9 Advising Specifically for Paralegal Students Second, as a paralegal, work will vary from day to day. You ll be involved in various projects at any given time. Within the course of a week you might, for instance, attend a court hearing, conduct trial discovery, locate, contact and interview witnesses, prepare legal documents and conduct research to support cases. Third, as a paralegal, you will have a variety of opportunities in today s job market. Paralegals can find jobs not only in law firms but also in government, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, detective and insurance agencies, title companies, and corporate legal departments, just to name a few. Various entities have begun hiring paralegals as they cost less than an attorney but can perform some of the same tasks. Your paralegal education will also prepare you to work in other sectors such as politics, social services, human resources and administrative positions within corporations. Last, if you decide to go to law school, paralegals generally do very well in law school due to the vast skills and knowledge gained while working in the legal field. Additionally, you may have already narrowed down your specialty field of study, thus you won t have to waste precious time trying to find your niche. Also, you may have acquired a handy list of contacts within the legal community. Success in School Clark College exists to serve students of various academic achievement levels, life stages, and vocational aspirations. Towards this end, Clark s Offices of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Support Services are available to anyone with a desire to complete a college degree program. w Within the Admissions Office, you will learn about admission requirements and the reading, writing, and math placement tests. Once tested, you can select classes which are appropriate to your skill levels. w After meeting admission advisors, you will invariably be directed to the Financial Aid Office. At Financial Aid, you will become acquainted with the FAFSA (Federal Aid form), grants, student loans, work study, and scholarships, which are all financial resources available to students to help pay for college. w After completing all entrance requirements and once classes have begun, some students find themselves overwhelmed. The Support and Services Office helps students to establish a comfort level while completing their school work. For instance, Tutoring Centers are available to help students in many subject areas and are invaluable in guiding students toward the successful completion of their homework. Many programs, including the paralegal program, have senior students staffed in the tutoring centers to help students come to a better understanding of the requirements of their respective coursework.
6 10 11 Clark Association of Paralegal Students (CAPS) Where best to get advice at times but from others who ve preceded you? Clark College has a great paralegal and legal assistant student club on campus Clark Association of Paralegal Students (CAPS). Their purpose is to provide support, outreach, and growth for the paralegal/legal assistant program by fostering planned study groups, guest speakers from the field, and courthouse tours with all intent CAPS goal is to encourage a passion for law and the career field. Meetings: Every other Tuesday 5:00pm to 5:45pm in the Penguin Union Building Student Lounge PUB 161. Education (after High School) - Program and Degrees 1. Academic Coursework - Paralegal Degree To obtain an AAS degree in Paralegal, you must earn 90 credit requirements and you must maintain a 2.00 cumulative grade point average. The required credits include your general education classes and specified Paralegal and Legal Assistant courses. Check your college catalog while choosing your classes, as some are only offered during specific quarters. In other words, all courses are not offered every quarter; it is imperative you sit down at the on-set of your college career and carefully plan out your course of action with your Academic Advisor. 2. Academic Coursework - Paralegal Certificate of Proficiency To obtain a Certificate in Paralegal you must maintain a 2.00 cumulative grade point average. The Certificate of Proficiency is designed for students with prior college or law firm experience who wish to receive specialized paralegal training. To obtain a paralegal certificate, you must earn credit requirements. 3. Brief Summary in Preparation of Class Load When choosing your classes, insure that you are not overloading yourself. Find out what the homework loads are so you are not taking too many courses. For example: when taking Legal Research PRLE 103, choose other classes that are not as demanding. 4. Online Services Online Services is a link on the Clark College home page that enables you to access different functions via the internet. Some examples include: Bookstore; Change of Address Form; Class Information; Degree Works; Online Advising; Student Schedule and Web Registration. As long as you have your Student ID, date of birth and address, you will have access to the links located within Online Services, saving you time and making the processes easier.
7 12 13 Online Advising 5. Graduation By accessing the Online Advising link, you have the options to review the Frequently Asked Questions or directly your Advisor. Be specific with your questions and allow two business days for a response. If for some reason the advisor cannot answer your question, you will be notified to make an appointment. Online Services Degree Works Degree Works provides an unofficial evaluation of your credits. When accessing Degree Works through the Online Services tab, you will have several different viewing options to view your transcript information. w One such tab, Detailed Advice, is the default view and provides detailed information including course discipline, course number, course title, credit value, and transfer school information. w Concise Audit contains the course work completed by course discipline, course number and advice (which are the classes still needed). w Registration Audit shows the course discipline(s) and course number(s) that is still outstanding and must be completed. w What-If allows you to process and audit for a degree or certificate that is different than your default certificate or degree. Use this feature if you decide you might want to go into another career. Once you ve chosen which audit report you d like to view, you should print it for your permanent needs. When you are getting close to graduation, visit the Credentialing Office or your Academic Advisor and request a credit evaluation (form) to ensure you have what you need to graduate. Also, you must submit an application for completion in order to graduate. At Clark College, you must submit your application no later than the tenth day of the quarter you are expected to graduate. For more information regarding these topics and more, go to the Clark College website - or schedule an appointment with an advisor. 6. Continuing Education through Associations, Clark College, and More The legal world is changing, and it is becoming ever more difficult to keep up with the changes. Formerly, only attorneys attended continuing education classes, but now paralegals as well attend such, and especially paralegals in specialized branches. More law firms are sending their paralegals to educational courses, and they are reaping the benefits. Paralegals do more work now than they have ever done in the past, and attorneys are finding that they can delegate more of their work to paralegals, saving money for both the attorney and the attorney s clients.
8 14 15 As a paralegal or legal assistant, you have many opportunities to continue your education. Since the field of Law is constantly changing, you should remain knowledgeable in your area of work. In the legal community, it is important to understand that the more you know, the more you can succeed. Training can be achieved through professional associations, higherlearning institutions, internally created and structured seminars, mentoring, vendors and external training resources, and the incorporation of quality learning materials. Professional Associations To help paralegals, there are three leading professional associations: National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) (www.nala. org); National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) (www. paralegals.org); and National Association of Legal Services (NALS) (www.nals.org). Each offers continuing education at seminars, online programs, reading materials and more. Each offers voluntary certification that includes a study program, a test, and a required number of continuing education credits per year. For example, NALA offers advanced certification for certain specialty areas. Furthermore, the NFPA exam covers specialty sections as well. 3 For your current need in reading, consider Legal Assistant Today (www.legalassistanttoday.com), a monthly magazine. 4 This premier magazine is dedicated to the profession of paralegals. Topics are numerous, but have included new ways of research, interview techniques, salary ranges, and where to obtain continuing education. Higher Education Continuing education doesn t have to be with a professional association. Consider formal courses for college credit, such as those offered at Clark College. For example, if your work includes personal injury or medical malpractice, consider taking a college course in medical terminology or anatomy and physiology. Continuing education comes from all aspects, not just through a degree: standalone classes can be beneficial in your career, and a bonus on your resume! In-House Seminars Once you are hired, some law firms use one-on-one teaching by other paralegals and lawyers. Other law firms have structured training programs beneficial for your area of practice. Such in-house seminars have the benefit of targeting the specific area of need. Mentoring Mentoring is a good and often easily accessible method of learning. A mentor can be a secretary, a senior paralegal, an office manager, an attorney, or even a team of mentors. An added benefit to mentoring is that you learn how things are preferred to be done within the company, without learning matters that may not be applicable to your position. 3 See other discussion in this booklet, Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certification. 4 See other discussion in this booklet, LA Today.
9 16 17 Seminar Companies There are many local and national seminar management companies that can offer a wide variety of seminars, often day long, presented by a specialist. On-line Education Take your specialty classes at your leisure. On-line courses are as convenient as having a computer, Internet connection, and a telephone. Estrin LegalEd and West LegalEdcenter both offer specialized on-line courses for paralegals. Getting into law school can be difficult. For example, working and going to school create pressures, such as family burdens, and you must know how much work you are willing to do. Graduate (law) school adds high cost (for example, tuition) and other financial burdens. Also, consider another disadvantage which is that law firms are using paralegals and legal assistants more and more to cut down the cost of hiring new lawyers. Continuing Education through Law School If law school is your ultimate goal, consider being a paralegal or legal assistant first. Experience as a paralegal gives you working knowledge of the day-to-day activities and practices when working with the Law. The paralegal profession will enhance your legal education to be a better lawyer. Another advantage is that, as a law student, you will bring to your law school experience useful knowledge of legal terminology, legal procedure, legal research and legal writing skills. Furthermore, being a paralegal first can confirm your personal motivation and feelings of pursuing a law degree before you invest time and money into another program. Any previous law firm experience will be an advantage to the future job market. Knowledge and skills drawn from your practical learning in the work place is a superior advantage, as you will have better comprehension of real-life roadblocks to overcome.
10 18 19 Your Internship 1. What is an Internship? An important aspect of your education in the paralegal field is your internship. An internship is defined as: A period of apprenticeship when students work off-campus, under supervision, in a school, factory, hospital, business, laboratory, or government agency or program. It also allows students to learn practical applications of classroom material. An internship is the very best way to familiarize you with what being a paralegal entails. Furthermore, it is an excellent opportunity to get on the job experience very important when it comes time to find a job. During your internship, you will be guided and advised by experienced paralegals and attorneys. Attorney employers and similar businesses and organizations, such as private law firms, government agencies, court offices, corporations, insurance companies, banks, real estate companies, community service agencies, health care facilities, or other appropriate offices, working closely with Clark College, are in the unique position of being able to offer PRLE students, entering the end of their academic career at Clark, a range of experiences that many students need so they may discover their interests and talents. When exposed to a variety of environments and real-time problems, Paralegal/Legal Assistant students begin to grasp the urgency of the rapidly changing demands they will face in the workplace, including exponential increases in the sophistication of technology. Such business and organizations contribute to students education by offering internships and other kinds of exposure to the workplace. Because the internship is a capstone course, it will normally be scheduled as one of the final courses in the degree program. Students self-enroll in the internship when in their academic careers they are eligible (prerequisites completed) and feel they are ready to tackle the duties of an intern. The Paralegal Program Director assists as their coordinator. While it is up to the student when to start her/his internship, the Program Director must authorize the enrollment. Most students find that it is most productive to complete an internship towards the end of their paralegal studies. In this way, they are more familiar with the basics of the law practice areas. Students enrolling in the internship should consider the benefits of successfully completing most of the PRLE course to make the internship a far more enriching experience. The more competencies you bring to the internship experience, the more the experience can benefit your own needs. The duties of the Intern are: w The Paralegal/Legal Assistant Intern will work side by side, in a paralegal position, with attorneys and law office staff in various situations suitable to the skills, experience and education the Intern brings to the Internship. w It is expected the Intern will learn the practical daily operation of the law office. Supervised by a licensed, practicing attorney, the student will be both an observer and a participant in the operation of the law office.
11 20 21 The Intern has responsibilities ranging from: Other requirements include: w client interviewing w maintaining case files w legal research w drafting letters and other legal documents under the supervision of the licensed Attorney w participating in administrative hearings w observing court hearings w making telephone calls on behalf of clients w limited clerical and support tasks Miscellaneous skills include: w Communication skills are a must. The Intern may return phone calls and schedule appointments on behalf of the attorney. w Time management skills are essential, as well as organizational and interpersonal skills along with a concrete understanding of the advocacy process and the lawyer s role in the judicial system. w The Intern must be able to spell and use proper grammar. w The law office can be very fast-paced. The Intern must be able to work calmly under pressure and have a good attitude. w The Intern may be called to help out with the phones, typing, files and day-to-day affairs in the office. w Professionalism is expected. If there are appointments, hearings, meetings or otherwise, the assistant is expected to dress professionally. A good understanding of business etiquette is required, including professional dress and appearance. w If the intern has a school schedule or other obligations, the Intern will provide the law office staff and attorneys her/his schedule of hours. The Law Firm should be flexible with the hours that the Intern can work. However, the hours must remain consistent for the duration of the internship. w The student generally receives no salary or remuneration for his/ her services. During an internship, Clark College expects the student will be guided and advised by experienced paralegals and attorneys. 2. Process of Obtaining an Internship Note that the courses at Clark College in which you must enroll for credit(s) are PRLE 153 (1 credit) and PRLE 299 (2 to 3 credits). You are primarily responsible for finding your internship. However, you are not alone in this endeavor. Many of the paralegal teachers have contacts within the legal community; they may be able to help you find an internship. The advisors at Clark are here to help you as well. It s going to take some leg work from you, but it s worth it.
12 22 23 When you enroll at Clark College for PRLE 299 (Internship course), w Make it stress free. Having the following two pieces of the you may enroll for 1, 2 or 3 credits (2 or 3 is needed to graduate, so puzzle in hand will make a stressful time easier to manage: most enroll for 3 credits). If you enroll for three credits, you will have to complete 99 hours at the internship site. A two-credit internship requires 66 hours and only 33 hours should be completed for one credit. Build a résumé. Use Clark s resources, such as Clark s Paralegal Program Director or other Paralegal Instructors, for this process. Instructors are either experienced attorneys or paralegals. They know what attorney employers want to hear! During your internship, there are no requirements as to the number of hours per day or week to work, but you must complete all requirements prior to the end of the quarter in which you have enrolled. 3. Advice for Your Internship When it comes to finding your internship: w Don t make assumptions about various fields of law. Don t limit yourself, keep an open mind. Choose a field of law that appeals to you, but also consider experience in a less familiar field. The wider your experience, the better. Also, you don t have to intern with a law firm, as many corporations take interns. Think outside the box and make sure you have fun! w Your success depends on a few factors: (1) your motivation; (2) the attorney s and supervisor s commitment of time and energy to teaching the trainee; (3) funding or non-funding of your internship; and (4) a well-thought out and organized path of learning. w Begin the quarter before. You have to use your own feet or insider contacts to locate a comfortable setting for your internship. Target numerous sites. As you select attorney employer sites, you will want to bring extra resumes. Perhaps you are traveling to site to interview, but there may be opportunities to stop somewhere else in that Law Office Building you don t have on the list. Congratulations if the first stop yields success, but for most interns looking for sites, that chance just isn t reality. There are many firms out there who do not accept interns. Do not take it personally, move on to the next firm. w . It is a good idea to the firms if you can t reach them by phone. You should attach your resume and a transcript and let them know when you re available. w Complete your internship contract. The student, supervising/participating attorney, and the Paralegal Program Director are all involved in completing the agreement. Review the Duties and Goals with your supervising/participating attorney. These provisions define the path for the internship to follow. These terms will not only help you know what you should have accomplished, but it gives the attorney an idea of how to handle an intern if this a first time experience.
13 24 25 w Say Thanks! This one often misses the check list, but from the most reliable sources, it is the most important. When your internship is over always remember to say, Thank you! It can be done in any form that you are comfortable with, just make sure it gets done! 4. Resources for Obtaining an Internship The following firms have had, currently have or are open to interns from Clark College: Baumgartner, Nelson and Price 112W. 11th St., Suite 150 Vancouver, WA Contact: Mickey Thompson Miles & Miles 1220 Main St., Ste. 455 Vancouver, WA Landerhoim, Memovich, Lansverk & Whitesides 805 Broadway St., Ste Vancouver, WA Clark Co. District Attorney Franklin St. Vancouver, WA Webber / Gunn 7700 NE 26th Ave. Vancouver, WA Miller / Nash 500 E. Broadway, Suite 400 Vancouver, WA The Law Office of Maggie Smith Evansen, P.S Esther St. Ste. C Vancouver, Washington Tel smithevansenlaw.com Wheeler, Montgomery, Sleight & Boyd 408 W. 9th St. Vancouver, WA Ginger Pullen, Paralegal Law Department The Kroger Co SE 22nd Ave Portland OR (503) Nicholas Wood 2901 Main St. Vancouver, WA Barg Horvat PC 121 SW Morrison Street Suite 600 Portland, Oregon (503) More sites are posted and updated on the Clark College Paralegal / Legal Assistant Bulletin Board! 5 Candidates must pass a background check 6 Emphasizes criminal defense.
14 26 27 Employment and Salary Realities 1. Experience and How to Get it! Students are looking for jobs to gain valuable experience in the legal field, in order to function and perform as they have been trained and educated. Experience is achieved through several means, the most important and by far the most practical is an internship. Most internships are performed during the last quarter in the program and are done on a volunteer basis, although on occasion, albeit rare, you may find a supervising attorney who is willing to pay you while you intern with that firm. 7 Another method to achieve experience is to volunteer as an advocate with a non-profit organization, such as the Legal Aid or the YMCA (e.g. Court Appointed Special Advocate [CASA]), and thus gain experience through such programs. You may also work as clerical support, such as legal secretary, runner or other function, as a means to get your foot in the door and learn job responsibilities. When a position as a paralegal or legal assistant becomes available, then seek promotion. Don t forget that professional paralegal associations such as National Association for Legal Assistants (www.nala.org) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (www.paralegals.org) have information as well. Furthermore, your local professional paralegal association can also link you up with other local paralegals for networking purposes. Here are a few of resources available to Paralegal students and graduates that will get you started: Clark College services/employment/job_information This is a free job placement service and is available to both current and former Clark College students. Through this website, you will be able to seek information regarding local employers (search by your major), career research links, work source link, and more. This website also connects you with Job Search Techniques, including writing a cover letter, job search tips, resume tips, interviewing tips, and much more. It is also recommended that you visit the Employment Office at Clark College. Legal Assistant Today This web site is the only independent legal news resource covering the paralegal profession. 7 See other discussion in this Booklet Internships.
15 28 29 Various areas to pursue include: a. Job Bank b. Becoming a paralegal c. News briefs d. National & local organizations for paralegals e. Option to obtain of the LAT bulletin which keeps you upto-date not only with LAT but with the paralegal profession itself f. Upcoming events, national and local w Mediation w Medical Malpractice w Military Law w National Security Law w Nonprofit Law w Personal Injury Law 3. Salary Ranges 8 w Privacy Law w Property Law w Public Defense w Real Estate Law w Securities w Tribal Law 2. Areas of Practice Don t be afraid to expand your horizons and try something new and interesting! Consider these areas: w Administrative Law w Air, Sea and Space Law w Antitrust Law w Bankruptcy Law w Children s Law w Civil Rights Law w Communications & Media Law w Consumer Law w Corporate Law w Criminal Law w Cyberspace Law w Disability Law w Drug Law w e-commerce w Elder Law w Employee Benefits Law w Entertainment and Sports Law w Environmental Law w Family Law w Gaming Law w Health Law w Homeland Security Law w Housing Law w Immigration Law w Insurance Law w Labor & Employment Law w Litigators Earnings of paralegals and legal assistants vary greatly. Salaries depend on education, training, experience, the type and size of employer, and the geographic location of the job. In general, paralegals who work for large law firms or in large metropolitan areas earn more than those who work for smaller firms or in less populated regions. In May 2006, full-time wage-and-salary paralegals and legal assistants had median annual earnings, including bonuses, of $43,040. The middle 50 percent earned between $33,920 and $54,690. The top 10 percent earned more than $67,540, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $27, As usual, experience is one of the most important factors that will increase your salary opportunity. The amount of experience as well as your skills and type of degree will affect your pay. Formally trained paralegals generally have the best opportunities for employment. There are several job opportunities for paralegals to work for the government. According to the Bureau of Labor, an average salary for a paralegal working for the government is as follows: 8 US Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Occupational Outlook Handbook found at 9
16 30 31 w Federal Government: $59,370 w Local Government: $38,260 w Legal Services: $37,870 w State Government: $34, Benefits for Paralegals The latest concerning salaries, benefits, raises, overtime and much more... According to the National Federal of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) 2006 Compensation and Benefits Study Report, the most common benefits offered today are w Vacation (reported by 93%) w Paid sick leave (85%) w 401(k) savings plan (81%) w Life insurance (77%) w Professional Dues reimbursement (73%) w Personal paid time off (71%) w Dental insurance (70%) w Continuing legal education reimbursement (70%) w Long-term disability insurance (64%) w Partially paid employee medical insurance (58%) w Vision insurance (51%) w Paid professional time off for association activities (50%) w Flexible scheduling (45%) or ability to work from home (29%) w Pension retirement (34%) w Fully paid employee medical insurance (32%) w Medical supplements (19%) w Unpaid time off for association activities (15%) 5. Working outside the Box Alternative Careers The paralegal career is not just for law firms anymore Even within the relatively narrow definition of the term Paralegal, you will find that your unique experience can develop into multiple satisfying careers. Many students think that a paralegal works only in a law firm, yet being a paralegal does not limit you to a traditional law firm. What field do you wish? There is room for diversity if you seek it. Three out of ten jobs in the paralegal field are held in alternative work places. Within the federal government, the US Department of Justice is the largest employer, followed by the Social Security Administration, and then the US Department of Transportation. Types of work available to paralegals include: w Social Worker w Title Examiner w Abstractor w Claims Adjuster w Government Employee (various) w Appraiser w Examiner w Court Interpreter w Guardian ad litem w Investigator w Lobbyist w Law Librarian w Writer for legal publications w Advisor to associations
17 32 33 Paralegal Studies prepare a graduate for many options, due to the program s focus on organizational and interpersonal skills, skills always needed in the job market. Not only are there plenty of jobs outside law firms, having Paralegal skills provides plenty of transferable talents. According to the Oregon Career Information System, paralegals and social workers share over one dozen work activities. Some similar tasks include: w make decisions and solve problems w document and record information w organize, plan and prioritize work w evaluate information against standards w explain the meaning of information to others All of these tasks also share autonomy, an aspect of working that most employees find appealing. 6. Job Outlook Employment for paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through Competition for jobs should continue as many people seek to go into this profession; however, experienced, formally trained paralegals should have the best employment opportunities. As of now, the area in Washington State that is in the highest demand for Paralegals is King County. Job opportunities for paralegals will expand in the public sector as well. Community legal-service programs, which provide assistance to the poor, elderly, minorities, and middle-income families, will employ additional paralegals to minimize expenses and serve the most people. Federal, State, and local government agencies, consumer organizations, and the courts also should continue to hire paralegals in increasing numbers. 7. Becoming a Specialist The need for specialized paralegals is increasing at a steady rate, and at the same time, a surplus of entry-level candidates is being passed up because they lack experience. To be competitive in this market, you need to invest in continuing education and structured training. The rapidly growing paralegal field is opening up new opportunities for paralegals who want to specialize in one particular field. All you need are a few years experience under your belt, either on the job and/or in conjunction with a paralegal degree. Many paralegal associations through their websites can help with career choices in specialty areas, describing various types of jobs available and the education needed. For instance, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) allows you to explore different types of jobs and suggests various continuing legal education routes in order to climb the ladder. Specific specialty areas for paralegals include Legal Nurse or Health Consultants, Legal Administrators, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. Other specialty areas include Knowledge or Learning Officers, Directors of Professional Management, Practice Group Leaders, and Environmental Specialists.
18 34 35 For instance, Legal Nurse Consultants manage cases where medical knowledge is needed. A health or nurse consultant may hold a degree as a nurse and a paralegal. These consultants can investigate nursing home complaints, navigate through medical malpractice cases and more. Employers of Legal Nurse Consultants, for example, include insurance companies and larger, private law firms. Law Office Managers and Law Office Administrators make decisions as the personnel manager, the finance manager, and the health and safety manager. These office administrators organize and supervise administrative activities within the office. These duties may include coordinating and directing administrative support functions for an office or department, implementing policies and procedures for production of documents, work flow, filing, ordering of supplies, records maintenance, and other clerical services. Office managers may organize office operations such as workspace assignment and layout, along with assisting in the decision process for hiring, terminating, promoting, or evaluating office personnel. Office managers monitor the budget, accounting, and/or time records. For law firms with less than 30 to 45 attorneys, most Office Managers come to those law firms with significant management familiarity derived from their own experiences in the legal profession. For such firm managers, they gain experience from their roles as paralegals, executive assistants, law clerks or personnel managers. The responsibilities of the office manager may be writing reports, supervising the work of clerical and secretarial staff, monitoring the workload and work rate, delegating work and workload planning, keeping personnel records, controlling the office budget, liaising with members of the senior management team, and dealing with complex queries and complaints. For law firms greater than 45 attorneys, most Law Office Administrators come from the business sector, possessing advanced degrees, such as MBA s or possessing CPA certificates. They generally enjoy extensive accounting/financial analysis expertise and seniorlevel management experience. Law Office Administrators serve on all internal committees and have a strong, respected voice in management discussions and related decisions, including working with members of the firm s Board of Directors. Paralegal Administrators typically recruit and hire new employees, supervise a team of paralegals, and manage work unit operations, and perform other duties typical to paralegal obligations such as document preparation. Furthermore, such Paralegal Administrators might coordinate on-site continuing legal education for paralegals and participate in long range planning. According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, an administrator can set salaries, solve personnel problems, and prepare financial and statistical reports, such as yearly budgets. Paralegal Administrators are typically knowledgeable in employment law and have management skills. Another fast growing specialty field for paralegals is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). In ADR, paralegals are providing assistance to out-of-court resolutions through mediation, negotiation,
19 36 37 and/or arbitration. Paralegals involved in conflict resolution need experience, and knowledge of mediation, negotiation, and arbitration. Their duties can include legal research, drafting motions, and negotiation. Furthermore, they must be knowledgeable of the laws and regulations in regards to ADR. Paralegals who serve as arbitrators and/or mediators assist parties settlements, often work closely with the courts, ensure court documents are fully prepared, listen to the disputing parties and discuss various perspectives to help the parties come to a mutual agreement, and assist in writing the agreement for the parties to sign. They possess excellent listening skills and often have experience and knowledge within a law area, such as real estate, litigation or family law. Knowledge Management is the process through which a law firm benefits from its intellectual and knowledge-based assets. Knowledge or learning officers must understand how to codify what employees, partners and clients know, and share that information among the firm in an effort to devise best practices. A branch of Knowledge Management includes the role of Directors of Professional Management who are responsible for training new and current employees, as well as the implementation of training development programs. The Director may be in charge of annual reviews of employees and attorneys. Another branch of Knowledge Management includes the role of Law Librarians. Law Librarians, often considered the brain trust of the private firm, keep all documents and information current, and are knowledgeable of past research projects within the office. They understand how to locate legal and non-legal resources accessible in the office or outside. The responsibilities and duties of a Law Librarian, according to the American Association of Law Librarians, are to provide information to lawyers and staff by mail, , in person, or by phone; to assist legal staff with basic reference questions; perform basic cataloging tasks; and assist staff in using law library technology. Another specialist area includes the role of the Practice Group Leader whose job it is to supervise attorneys and paralegals by observing their work and making certain that they are appropriately managing client matters. Usually, this leader has office workers under her that help out while continuing their own work. She will be in charge of creating and implementing a plan while helping the workers to succeed in carrying forward firm goals and projects. Outside the traditional attorney employers and law firms, an Environmental Specialist s job is to review projects by going to location sites to make sure that construction follows environmental laws, and to keep such projects current with environmental laws. As the field of paralegal specialists is unregulated, the possibilities of how specialist careers develop are ever expanding.
20 Job Flexibility In the legal profession, work schedules don t always have to exist between 8am-5pm. Many private and some government attorneyemployers are seeking ways to help their employees get the most out of their work day. This means flex-time: come in early before your counterparts, or work from home ( telecommute ). For example, a paralegal may telecommute part-time for her supervising attorney, making business calls and preparing files and documents from home. Her home has become her alternative work arrangement. Many people that are in the workforce (or coming back to the workforce) are entering with difficult situations and a need to develop alternative work arrangements. Employers, too, are also receiving benefits for such arrangements. They re finding that not only is there less overhead, but employees are becoming more productive because there is less office chatter. Make sure to ask about flex-time options from your supervising attorney employer. However, first build on a strong relationship of trust show that you can be relied on to get the projects done. Paralegals and the Unauthorized Practice of Law The unauthorized practice of law is prohibited in every state and prohibits any paralegal from rendering legal advice. Due to the expanding career field of law, including new professions such as independent paralegals, stricter guidelines have been enforced to restrict the unauthorized practice of law and protect clients. The general definition of unauthorized practice of law is quite hard to define as there are many avenues to which could constitute the unauthorized practice of law. The American Bar Association defines the practice of law as, Functionally, the practice of law relates to the rendition of services for others that call for the professional judgment of lawyers. The essence of the professional judgment of the lawyer is his educated ability to relate the general body and philosophy of law to a specific legal problem of a client. As defined by Revised Code of Washington 10 a non-lawyer may not practice law, or hold himself or herself out as entitled to practice law. In Washington, the unlawful practice of law is a crime, and a single violation is a gross misdemeanor with each additional violation set as a class C felony. 1. Why is this rule important to a Paralegal? The unauthorized practice of law is a very important matter when it comes to a paralegal s ethical obligation. A paralegal may know current laws and regulations, but she is not authorized to give any legal advice to anyone. 10 Revised Code of Washington