The Swiss Army knife of any legal team, a paralegal is known for being a versatile and indispensable player. In this role, you juggle a variety of law-related tasks, helping attorneys in whatever ways they need. One day, you might be researching laws relevant to a case or drafting documents to file in court. The next, you could be gathering evidence for a hearing, scheduling depositions or taking notes at trial.
Common Job Titles
Paralegal, Legal Assistant
$50,748 in Seattle
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics; PayScale.
“No one day as a paralegal is like any other,” explained attorney Judi Maier, an instructor in the Certificate in Paralegal Studies
offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education. “That’s what I think is appealing about this job.”
Maier says the job also has another strong appeal: It’s about helping people. “People go into the paralegal field because they see it as a way to help people resolve problems in their lives — whether it’s business problems, personal problems or criminal issues,” Maier said.
Paralegals in Demand
Career opportunities for paralegals are growing. To keep costs down and productivity up, law firms are looking to hire paralegals. “The workload in many law firms has shifted from the role associates used to play and onto the shoulders of competent paralegals,” Maier explained. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs for paralegals is expected to grow by 8 percent from 2014 to 2024.
Becoming a Paralegal
The most common and direct route to getting started in this role is to take a paralegal training program, like the Certificate in Paralegal Studies. “If you have a respected credential, that shows a law firm that you’ve passed a rigorous course of study, have been deemed competent by your instructors and are ready to go to work; a law firm is likely eager to hire you.” Maier said.
Any undergraduate degree can work as a launch pad for pursuing paralegal studies. And, depending on your major, you might want to take advantage of your undergraduate field of study to work in a related legal area. If you have a background in psychology or social studies, you might consider family law, for example. Ally Taylor Bain, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology, is one certificate program graduate who landed a job as a paralegal at a firm specializing in family law.
An engineering or science background can make you a good fit for patent law or intellectual property law — and can lead to especially lucrative paralegal careers. “I know of certificate grads with master’s degrees in engineering who went on to get well-paying jobs at boutique patent law firms or intellectual property law firms because of their backgrounds,” Maier said.