Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Paralegal

If you are thinking about becoming a paralegal, you will want to make sure to take a balanced approach before starting a new career.

There's always the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to any occupation, but looking at each point realistically will help you decide if it's the job for you.

To help you, I have compiled a list of the pros and cons of becoming a paralegal.

Pros

The following list of pros about the paralegal profession will give you the best positive vantage point of paralegal job duties and what it can offer as a lifetime pursuit.

There is no doubt that you need to like crafting documents, doing research, and analyzing, but there are other considerations beyond a technical love for the mechanics of the job.

Different types of paralegal specialties

Paralegal careers are available in a wide selection of businesses and industries.

All you have to envision is the difference in attorney specialties and know that it breaks down even more from that.

An attorney that specializes in family law will need assistance with divorce cases, child custody, child support and adoption, just to name a few areas.

This means that a paralegal can assist with one or two of these areas and then another paralegal can assist with other specialties.

The work opportunities are almost endless since the areas of expertise are so specific.

Ease of Entry

If you are truly interested in the paralegal field, then there is a way to get started without investing a lot of money in starting the career.

You can start at a low level position in a law firm or attorney office and get training as you go or you can get a certificate if you have a degree already.

The certificate takes about 6 to 9 months and is relatively inexpensive.

You can also get a traditional degree such as an associate's, bachelor's, or master's in paralegal studies.

There is a lot of flexibility in legal assistant education requirements and ways to start your career as a paralegal professional.

Job Stability

Attorneys will always need help with the mountains of paperwork and research that is needed to successfully deal with legal cases.

There is not any expected change in how law is practiced, which means the same amount of work will greet an attorney whether he or she has help or not.

This means that it is one of the most stable jobs you can have.

There is a large pool of attorney offices and large firms that keep a regular pool of paralegal openings available.

Expanding Field

Even though there are no registration and licensing requirements to be a paralegal to date, there is an ever expanding respect growing for the field.

There are more and more larger corporations and companies that are seeing the value of having an attorney and paralegals on the payroll.

This means that there are more openings in the corporate and industrial sector.

As more paralegals make the move to corporate specialties, it opens up paralegal opportunities in a variety of other arenas.

The great thing about the legal field is that it is less dependent on the economy for expansion.

There is always a need for legal protection and documentation.


Cons

You need to also take an honest look at what some of the more negative aspects of a paralegal career offer.

It is an office job, but it's a far cry from being a secretary.

It can be a highly demanding profession that rewards you with a ton of work and very little recognition outside of your circle of fellow paralegal experts.

Understanding every nuance of the paralegal profession will help you make the right decision for you.

Stress

Being a paralegal can be stressful. This is especially true if you work in a busy law firm that has a thriving practice.

Creating and meeting deadlines can be a real balancing act when you are having to deal with the schedules of clients, attorneys and the courts.

There can be serious consequences for clients if deadlines on legal documents and hearings aren't met.

A majority of the legal research and writing for a case will fall on your shoulders. This could present a problem if you aren't organized and up for a challenge.

Long Work Hours

Due to the difficult of working miracles on getting everyone's schedules to mesh, there will be many times that a paralegal has to work after hours and on the weekends.

This is even more necessary when important cases are approaching deadlines that have to be met.

You might find yourself finishing the paperwork for a court motion at midnight and then have to be back in the office by 8 the morning.

Many times personal plans have to be sidelined. It can also increase things like child care expenses if you are a single parent.

Tedious Work


Being effective as a paralegal means specializing in certain areas of the law.

This means you will be revisiting a lot of cases and case types in the course of your career.

You will be writing a lot of similar legal briefs and motions.

The typing, note taking and strategies can all seem a bit tedious after awhile. Repetitive job duties can make your day seem painfully predictable and boring.

There's not a lot of opportunity to deal with cases that are exciting. Most will be very dull, even if they are necessary.


Job Advancements


In a small law firm or single attorney office there is virtually no chance for advancement as a paralegal.

Your job will be assisting the attorney on a daily basis. As the only paralegal you will kept pretty busy.

In larger firms or corporations with legal departments, you might have some chance for advancement.

Anytime there is more than one or two paralegals, there is a chance to be the top performer.

It will take getting degrees in the field or having a lot of years of experience to qualify to supervise the work of other paralegal professionals.

I hope this information about the pros and cons of a paralegal career has been useful.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sample Paralegal Training Costs

Education is expensive but is an investment. Your studies will prepare you for more responsibility and higher pay.

But it can be tough to commit to a program if we don't know how much it costs. One course of study I want to look at is a paralegal training cost.

I will provide sample tuition fees from universities around the United States, and I will also sample set of fees to become a paralegal online.

Also, if you are not 100 percent sure this is the career for you, you can take a short, free, online paralegal training course to give you an idea. We'll look at the freebie first.

Paralegal training online for free?

You won't get your entire paralegal training online free, but you can get a introductory, short mini-course from the American Institute for Paralegal Studies to find out if an online paralegal education is right for you.

One item to keep in mind: This is a way to see if an online education will work for you.

When choosing a school, you want to make sure that it is ABA approved, which makes sure your education is standardized. This brings us to ABA approved paralegal programs and their costs.

Private school cost example

Brick and mortar universities offer reasonable priced programs and on certificate programs. Universities will cost more than community colleges or career colleges.

My first sample program is the paralegal studies program at Loyola University in Chicago. This is a post-degree certificate in paralegal studies, which means you need a minimum of an bachelor's degree.

For the 2013-2014 year, each credit hour at Loyola is $620, which is around the average price for a private school.

They also have a student fee and a technology fee; both are dependent on how many credit hours you take. Also, three courses require a $55 Lexis Nexis and Weslaw computer database service fee.

The certificate curriculum at Loyola requires 22 credit hours to graduate with a paralegal certification. The courses are in 8-week blocks. If you took 5 credit hours for two semesters and two semesters with 6 credit hours, your cost for tuition would average about $3,600 each semester.

  • 22 credit hours: $13,640
  • Student activity fees: $324
  • Technology fees: $284
  • Lexis/Westlaw fees: $165
TOTAL: $14,413

Don't let the cost scare you. Loyola, like other schools, does offer scholarships and financial aid.

Many students are already working in the field and choose to start a new career, which is why they undertake the additional training.

Also, this sample cost above does not include transportation, books, and living costs; it is only for tuition.

Community college cost example

If you want to complete a program at a community college, your tuition will be much less -- even in Chicago.

I want to use Wilbur Wright College as an example for tuition.

You can get an associate in applied science at Wilbur Wright College; it requires 63 credit hours -- 39 of which are core paralegal courses.

Many folks may already have the general education requirements met and only need to focus on the core legal assistant courses.

But even if you have no college experience, you can complete this program in two years and with a tuition cost of around $6,500.

Wright charges $89 per credit hour for those who live in their district. Every semester they levy an activity fee ($85); registration fee ($30); and -- if you take web-based courses -- and an online fee ($50).

  • 63 credit hours: $5,607
  • Activity fees: $340
  • Registration fees: $120
  • Online fees: $200
TOTAL: $6,267

Also, books, living expenses, and transportation are not listed; this is just a sampling of tuition costs.

Remember, this assumes you don't have a degree. If you have one, your cost will be less because you won't need the general education courses, which totals 24 credit hours.

Is it worth it?

The value of an education is worth it. After you complete your course of study, you will be prepared to work in a law office or government agency as a legal assistant.

If you think in terms of salary, the median wage for a legal assistant in Chicago is $50,109, according to salary.com.

If you borrow $6,500 in loans for your education at a community college and earn $50K a year, that education is paid off in 10 years at a cost of $55 a month.

If you borrow $14,500 in loans for your education at a community college and earn $50K a year, that education is paid off in 10 years at a cost of about $121 a month.

Either way, you still earn good money -- even if there is a small cost for the education.

I hope this information about paralegal training cost has been useful.

Certified Paralegal in California Requirements and Resources

I wanted to learn how to become a paralegal in California, so I familarized myself with the requirements set by the California Business and Professions Code which took effect in 2001. 

The code defines that paralegals are persons qualified by appropriate education, experience, and training that enable them to perform delegated substantive legal work under the supervision of an attorney. 

Under the Code, a paralegal must possess any of the following minimum educational requirements:

* A certificate of completion of an ABA-approved paralegal program

* A certificate of completion of at least 24 semester units in law or related courses approved by the Bureau for Private Post-secondary and Vocational Education, or accredited by national or regional accrediting organizations.

* A bachelor's or a higher degree in any subject, at least 1 year of law-related experience under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, and a written statement from this attorney certifying that the person is qualified to do paralegal work. 

* A secondary education or a general equivalency diploma, at least 3 years of law-related experience under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, and a written statement from this attorney certifying that the person is qualified to do paralegal work.

Paralegals are also called Legal Assistants because they assist lawyers in the delivery of legal services. 

The Code, however, is explicit in stating that paralegals or legal assistants cannot work independently with clients. 

Paralegals must be employed or under contract by an active member of the State Bar of California, who has direct supervision and responsibility over the delegated job to the paralegal.   

Paralegals in California undergo voluntary certification through non-governmental organizations that assess their qualification based on standards.

Some examples of these certifications are those issued by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), such as the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) for persons who qualify in the set criteria. NALA also issues a CLA Specialist or CP Specialist title to those who pass the specialty certifying examination for a specific field of law.

Certifications, such as the CLA or CP, are not prerequisites in the practice of the profession. 

However, in the current competitive employment trend, paralegals would not wish to remain un-certified. 

It is important to prove to employers that an organization recognizes their abilities and attests to their qualification. 

The certification is issued only after passing the CLA examination which has over 1000 questions and upon compliance with continuing education. The CLA has become the badge of higher professional achievement.

Under the Business and Professions Code, California paralegals must comply with the minimum continuing legal education program consisting of 4 hours general or specialized legal education and 4 hours of legal ethics every two years. 

There is no reporting mechanism to be rendered to the government, but it is the responsibility of the supervising attorneys to keep track of this compliance.

While there is a code that defines what paralegals are, the nature of their work, and the extent and limits to their functions, there is no agency that governs paralegals in California. 

There is no regulating agency that issues licenses, tests their competency and moral character, sets a code of ethics for the practice of their profession and disciplinary system, or requires them to render reports. 

There is only a provision for penalty and civil liability integrated into the Code. 

It seems like all the regulation that currently exists, is the self-regulation exerted by non-government organizations and associations to their members. 

Here is the list of paralegal societies, organizations and associations in California. 

Alliance of Legal Document Assistant Professionals (ALDAP)

ALDAP is an organization of registered Legal Document Assistants (LDAs), and freelance or self-employed Paralegal/LDA dual professionals. 

Since these are allied professions that cater to the needs of professionals in the various specialty areas of law, they have joined together to develop their profession, facilitate the conduct of seminars for continuing legal education, and support the promotion of professional standards and regulatory compliance. This is a mutual and non-profit organization.

California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA)  

The CAPA is a statewide alliance of attorneys, member associations, local/state/national Bar Associations, and other persons or groups in the legal community. 

It is committed to the modernization and development of the paralegal profession as it acquires strength through a strong alliance.  

California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA) 

CALDA, as it is commonly known, is the former California Association of Independent Paralegals.

Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA)

LAPA was organized in response to the swelling clamor for an organized professional organization of paralegals throughout the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area in 1972. 

It was only in 1977 when the association was finally incorporated as a non-profit and mutual benefit entity. As of late, its membership has grown to 1,000.

NALS of Orange County

NALS of Orange County is the county's chapter of the National Association for Legal Professionals founded way back in 1949. 

It is registered as a non-profit association for members employed in the legal profession and maintains its existence as being non-partisan, non-sectarian, and non-union.

Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA)

Responding to the rising need for an organized association for paralegals, OCPA was eventually established in 1977 as a section of the Orange County Bar Association. 

Finally, in 1986 OCPA separated from its mother unit and registered as a non-profit corporation for paralegals determined to raise the bar of their profession.

Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County (PASCCO)

PASCCO is a professional and educational association serving legal assistants.  It was founded in 1978. 

Most of its members are paralegals employed by the county's corporations, law firms, and government agencies.

Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association (SVPA)

The SVPA was founded in 1978 as the Sacramento Association of Legal Assistants. 

It was incorporated in 1981 as a non-profit and mutual benefit corporation. While the designations "Legal Assistants" and "Paralegal" are used interchangeably, the former name seems to have been updated by the newer term. 

Thus the association changed its name in 2000 to adapt to changes in the legal environment. 

San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA)  

SDPA was founded in 1977 as San Diego Association of Legal Assistants. It also updated its name like the SDPA, but remained essentially the same organization that it was many years ago.

San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA)

This non-profit organization seeks to provide professional enhancement to its individual members in San Francisco and find ways to deliver paralegal services economically and efficiently. 

The paralegal profession thrives under self-regulation in California. 

Chose a paralegal society within your locality and one which will be able to respond to your professional needs to develop and enhance skills necessary to the services you provide.