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The Real Poop

"Gee whiz...I wish I could find work in the legal profession without having to go through all of that awful laugh (pronounced: 'law') school."

Well, hold that thought.

Paralegals handle many of the same duties that full-blown lawyers do, but A) they don't have to hold law degrees, and B) they don't make lawyer money. So pick your poison. If you're interested in law but would like to hold down a slightly less interactive position, then this may be the gig for you. Basically, paralegals can't set legal fees, give legal advice, or appear in court. Well, they can appear in court, they just can't do much more than that. Well, they can do much more than that…they just risk being arrested. And if they do appear in court, it's likely because they knocked off a 7-11 and got caught. (Paralegals are people, too.)

In fact, paralegals have more responsibilities and play a greater part in a law firm's daily routine than they used to. They may have a hand in investigating the details of a case to check for accuracy, track down relevant prior legal decisions that may assist the lawyer assigned to the case, and help file motions or obtain affidavits. In their free time, they can very often be found parasailing, paragliding, or parachuting.

Despite the added responsibility, there still isn't as much pressure on you as there is on the lawyer or lawyers you work for. You likely won't have to put in as many hours (although you can expect the occasional 12-hour day when it's crunch time on a big case), and if a case is lost, it's not on you. Even if you had something to do with it. Ultimately, it's the lawyer's job to effectively research, argue, and win cases—you're just there to lend a helping hand. 

Honestly, it takes a rare individual to want to be a paralegal from the start. Either all things law repulse you and you run as quickly as you can in the opposite direction, or you decide to go whole hog and put in those extra years of law school so you can make lawyer money and achieve lawyer prestige. It isn't often that someone wants to do just enough to assist attorneys, but not enough to be one. For that reason, many paralegals are preparing or studying to become full-fledged lawyers on the side, either by attending night school or by working as a paralegal only during the summer months in between semesters. Some individuals find themselves stuck in the paralegal track when they realize they can't stick it out for another three years of school, are feeling lost and overwhelmed by coursework, or are unable to pass the bar exam. Silly you—you thought it was something akin to the high jump.

If you happen to be that unusual creature who feels from the beginning that they would like to be a part of our legal system in only a very small way, go for it—the opportunities are out there. We're sure you can find a law firm that will be thrilled you don't want to abandon them when school starts up. Most law firms have some serious abandonment issues.

So give it a think. It's work and you may be called upon to perform duties that the folks above you are making three times as much to do themselves. That inequity can be frustrating. But if it's worth it to you to jump straight from undergrad into the real world, this gig is certainly a viable option. Even if it isn't...paradise. (It's like we can't stop ourselves.)