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DCE Magazine

Career Spotlight: Paralegal

Making a Strong Case for More Male Paralegals

Fall 2017

This critical role within a legal team is increasingly attracting males to a growing profession.

Entering the legal profession is a dream career for many. There's the high-stakes courtroom drama, all the preparation, dedication and excitement that's far from routine. Being a vital part of the justice system can be fulfilling as well as lucrative.

But going to law school is far too expensive and time consuming for most of us. That's why UCI alum Kevin Kwon chose to earn a paralegal certificate. He was attracted to law but becoming an attorney was out of the question.

Now he's part of the team at Callahan & Blaine, a leading law firm in Santa Ana, serving as a litigation paralegal managing multiple aspects of trial presentation and preparation.

“Here's an example,” Kwon said. “I just got back from Bakersfield from a two-week personal injury trial. We represented a young lady who was sexually assaulted at a hotel, after the front desk clerk gave the assailant a key to her room without checking his identification.”

Every day at trial, Kwon sat at counsel's table to run trial presentation software. He played an essential role in jury selection, cross examination, opening statement and closing argument. “All throughout trial, the attorneys were extremely dependent on my knowledge of this case, including the exhibits, witnesses and presentations.” In the end, Kwon's team won a $3.5 million verdict against the defendants. “It was the most dramatic part of the trial,” he said. “Our hard work had paid off.”

More people are finding that becoming a paralegal offers a number of advantages over law school. And it's becoming a far more diverse field than ever before.

A new diversity

Paralegals are on the front lines of every legal battle, working with teams of attorneys in the courtroom and behind the scenes. And the field is increasingly high-profile, attracting a new generation of paralegals that's more diverse than ever, far from the female-dominate stereotype of years past.

“It's very true that the paralegal field is much more diverse than it was when I started,” said Kwon, who got his paralegal certificate from UCI Extension (now Division of Continuing Education) in 2011. “It used to be dominated by women. Now I work with a staff of seven other paralegals, and five of us are men. My counterparts at other firms are largely men, as well.”

“The UCI Division of Continuing Education program is a perfect reflection of the growing diversity and popularity of the paralegal field,” said Michael Fischer, a practicing attorney and instructor with the DCE's Paralegal Certificate program.

“After a decade as a paralegal instructor at UCI teaching Torts, Contracts, and Civil Litigation among other topics, I can attest that both the program and broader interest in a paralegal career have recently experienced a tremendous growth spurt,” he said. “As a result, the faces in my classes are as diverse as they have ever been.”

The trend makes perfect sense, he added, fueled perhaps by a growing social acceptance of men taking on roles traditionally assigned to women. “Paralegals were once viewed culturally as female positions, akin to the way nursing or teaching was. Just as the dynamics in those fields have changed, so has the paralegal field.”

Another factor is a growing awareness of the prominent role a paralegal plays. Paralegals take on many of the same responsibilities as attorneys and report a similar level of fulfillment, Fischer said. And a certificate can be completed in just one quarter to a year and a half, without the burden of a massive student loan debt.

There's plenty of opportunity for newcomers, with paralegal jobs in California projected to rise over the next seven years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And if the goal is to work at a prestigious, reputable law firm, business or government agency, it helps to earn your certificate at a top institution like UC Irvine, Fischer said.

Learning the law

Fully accredited by the American Bar Association, the DCE Paralegal Certificate program offers a number of advantages, including an instructional staff comprised of experienced attorneys and paralegals from leading law firms, corporations and non-profits. It's a reflection of the expanded opportunities in the field, Fischer said.

“While law firms remain the No. 1 employer of paralegals, every government agency and every sector of the market—from courthouses and sole practitioners to banks and large corporations— now has a staff of paralegals.”

The program addresses the latest trends and technology, with an eye to teaching practical litigation and transactional skills, creating a framework for mastering the areas of legal practice most relevant to the role of a paralegal.

Although paralegals take on many of the same responsibilities as an attorney, they largely avoid the stress and long hours in the office, Kwon said — significant drawbacks that helped influence his decision.

Armed with a B.A. in political science from UCI, Kwon decided on a paralegal career while working in the legal department of Hyundai Motor America.

“I got an internship there and it really fueled my interested in a law career,” he said. “So I started checking out law schools and found them to be too expensive and time consuming. Besides, I was starting a family and didn't want to deal with all the extra work and worry lawyers bring home with them.”

Kwon took the leap, enrolled in the UCI paralegal program and was hired by a law firm about a month before he completed his certificate. “They were impressed by my UCI training and wanted me to start right away.”

Now he's busy immersing himself in a wide range of high-stakes litigation, supporting the Callahan & Blaine team on multiple fronts. It's always something different and exciting, which is one of the most attractive aspects of being a paralegal, Kwon said.

“Don't expect to be doing the same routine things day in and day out. There is a lot of opportunity to get out there, help people, have a little fun and improve your sense of self worth. My former students will tell you: Being a paralegal is just more fun,” Fischer said.

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