Things are looking a bit different from the head of the classroom in UCI Division of Continuing Education’s Paralegal Certificate Program lately. 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. As a result, the faces in my classes are as diverse as they have ever been.
Rife with opportunity as an increasing number of companies opt to maintain an in-house legal department, the paralegal field is definitely growing—with a trend toward more men entering the paralegal field and more returning workers choosing it as their next career move.
The trend makes sense. While paralegals take on some of the same responsibilities and report a similar level of fulfillment as lawyers do, the paralegal profession doesn’t require its members to have a law school degree. They’re not saddled with the same student loan burden and can complete their certificate in three quarters to a year and a half, depending on other obligations. Paralegals can set their schedules better than attorneys and enjoy more flexibility to attend to family or pursue other pleasures that make life worthwhile. Additionally, the money is very good for the educational investment required.
Not only have students who might have otherwise gone to law school enrolled for financial reasons, but so have attorneys. Generally they have been male lawyers who were laid off. They want to stay in the legal field and see this as one avenue to do so until they can secure an attorney position.
Joining them in the classroom are students who have just received their bachelor’s degrees as well as mid-career-changers, from advertising executives to accountants. A new social acceptance may also be contributing to my students’ diverse backgrounds. 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.
While law firms remain the number-one 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. Wherever you choose to work, becoming a paralegal is not the end of a career path, it’s the beginning. There are abundant opportunities, even at the entry level, and there is great money to be had in this field. Promotion tends to be based on performance and achievement, but your paralegal certificate is a big ticket for growth. Reputable employers prefer that the certificate is from a top institution.
One of the most attractive aspects of this field is variety. Don’t expect to be doing the same routine things day in and day out. There is 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.
“A new social acceptance may also be contributing to my students’ diverse backgrounds.”