OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve all heard of former alcoholics who go on to become addiction counselors once they’ve kicked the habit, and people who have beaten a serious illness and then decide to go to medical school, but here’s a new twist: according to an ABC News report, Casey Anthony’s attorney Charles Greene thinks she would make a good paralegal.

“I truly believe that she has a lot of skills,” Greene told ABCNews.com. “She’s better than many paralegals I know. She could be a paralegal or something like that right away. She is very organized, a very intelligent, very computer savvy person, so I think her skills and her desire may lie somewhere in that field.”

According to the report, Anthony has been unemployed for the past four years, recently filed bankruptcy, still gets numerous death threats, and lives in virtual hiding. She has declared a net worth of slightly over $1000 but is $800,000 in debt, and multiple civil lawsuits filed against her in Florida prevent her from moving out of that state and moving on with her life.

Does this really make her paralegal material?

I’m intrigued by the statement, “she’s better than many paralegals I know.” Better at what? Fabricating stories, lying to authorities, balancing motherhood with a fake career? Good paralegals are honest, organized, hard-working, and responsible. Is Anthony really any of those things? “She could be a paralegal or something like that right away.” Something like what? Hopefully Mr. Greene’s paralegal doesn’t read ABCNews.com.

Another quote from the story: “You don’t go from the most hated woman in the world, according to some media outlets, to being a normal person or being able to live a normal life.” Paralegals are usually friendly and get along well with clients, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of one who has been voted the “most hated woman in the world.” That will be pretty hard for her to overcome.

It is true that Anthony does have extensive personal experience with the law. Her sensational criminal trial for the murder of her daughter made international news, and she’s gaining first-hand knowledge of civil litigation and bankruptcy law. But I’m not sure that being a defendant, even one that was acquitted, translates well into a paralegal career.

Maybe she’d make a better criminal defense attorney. Just hope she keeps the malpractice insurance paid up.

Things are starting to look up and things are starting to change in a good way. I just hope that things stay good and that they only get better. ~Casey Anthony


So you’ve logged a few years as a paralegal.

You finished your paralegal training, and maybe even became certified. You learned the ropes from the senior paralegal on staff at your first job, and then you took the training wheels off and took a spin on your own.  The phone calls came, and somehow you knew what to say. You familiarized yourself with the cases and moved them forward. You tackled legal research, learned how to formulate queries, and found some on-point cases and statutes. You put your research to use in drafting settlement demands, motions, and briefs, maybe even a state Supreme Court brief like I did.

Maybe your boss even tells that when it comes to doing research for him, he prefers you over the new associate at the firm (one of mine did). Pretty soon you find yourself training that new associate, but it seems a little backwards since he is in a supervisory position and probably makes three times what you do. Then it happens.

You start to think about law school.

It’s only natural. You’ve gone through “trial by fire,” (that’s what my first boss called it) and you feel ready. Nobody doubts that you could do very well in law school. But is a J.D. what you really want?  Consider this:

1.  Lawyers have a lot of clout, but also a lot of stress.

As a paralegal, you pretty much do your work and go home. Maybe put in a little (or a lot) of overtime now and then, put up with some arrogant attorneys, get menial work dumped on you sometimes (or all the time). But if a statute of limitations is missed, a bad case resulted in a zero verdict, billable hours are down, and nobody is walking in the door looking for representation, it’s the attorney that is ultimately responsible, NOT YOU. With responsibility comes stress – a lot of it sometimes.

But maybe you function well under pressure, thrive on it, and end up doing some of your best work when the rubber meets the road. That’s for you to decide.

2.  Lawyers are required to have more formal training than paralegals are.

As a paralegal, you probably completed a two- or four-year program, or maybe even learned your skills on the job. You may or not have gotten certified, and licensing isn’t required. Although you already know a lot about law, you still have a long way to go to become a lawyer. Attorneys must complete a four-year degree, take the LSAT to gain entrance to law school, successfully complete three years of law school, pass their state’s bar exam, and then get licensed just to be able to work. That’s a lot of extra training.

But if you love a challenge, really like school, and can’t wait to get back in the classroom, law school might be just the thing for you.

3.  Law school costs a lot of money.

Although costs vary greatly, according to 2007 figures from the College Board, a paralegal degree from a community college cost about $4,552 per year, while a public university charged about $15,488 per year, and a private university cost about $34,063 per year, not counting room and board, books, and transportation. Fairly hefty, but contrast that with law school – for students starting law school in 2012-13, tuition at Columbia University School of Law and Yale (ranked the #1 law school by U.S. News & World report every year since 1990) is over $50,000 per year, not counting living expenses.  You can get a little better deal at a state school like The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, which costs $24,471 per year (in-state) and $38,595 per year (out-of-state).

Although financial aid is always a possibility, consider the gainful employment regulations that the federal government put in place this month – don’t borrow more than you will reasonably be able to pay back. According to the Department of Education, the annual loan payments of graduates should be less than 12 percent of their annual income or less than 30 percent of discretionary income.  That brings us to the next point.

4.  Lawyers have traditionally made much more money than paralegals, but salaries, especially for new graduates, may be much lower than expectations.

Most lawyers do not make $160,000 a year straight out of law school.The top salaries go to law students from the prestige schools – usually the top five percent in their class – or those who have the very best grades at other schools. According to the National Association for Legal Placement, approximately 25 percent of 2009 law school graduates are working temporary jobs, and a number of full-time lawyers are working in public interest jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median pay for paralegals in 2010 was $46,680 per year. Much less than the typical lawyer, but some experienced or highly-specialized paralegals such as those in e-Discovery earn more than attorneys, especially new graduates, who sometimes make as little as $35,000 per year depending upon location and area of practice.

Money isn’t everything, but if you want to earn more, going to law school might get you there faster than toiling away as a paralegal. Just remember that you’ll probably be incurring significant debt along the way, which will cut into your earnings for many years to come.

5.  Lawyers do all the challenging work, leaving paralegals with the mundane stuff.

Sometimes true, but not always. I have worked for two different law firms, one government agency, and currently a corporation, and the type of work I have been given depended entirely upon the management style of my supervising attorney. I’ve gotten to do fascinating legal research, writing, and challenging trial preparation, but also stood at the copier for hours on end and Bates stamped medical records until I was blue in the face. Sure, lawyers get to do some really cool stuff, like representing clients in court. But a lot of what lawyers do could also be considered a little dull, just ask one sometime…

6.  Being a lawyer is not all glitz and glamour.

Franklin & Bash is a television show, and not a reality one. Consider this: the website Career Cast does a ranking of the 200 best and worst jobs every year. Their 2012 report places paralegals at #49 and attorneys at #87, well below plumber, receptionist, and just above vending machine repairman and funeral director. The website gave paralegals a hiring outlook score of 17.89 and a 16.590 stress rating; attorneys received a hiring outlook score of 11.29 and 36.190 for stress (twice that of paralegals).

As a paralegal, you may put up with a lot from your supervising attorney, but it is still the lawyer that must ultimately answer to the client, the managing partner, and to the state bar. Remember that.

7.  There are a lot of attorneys in the marketplace right now.

Paralegals are in demand. In fact, employment of paralegals is projected to grow 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. Contrast that with a report compiled by the National Association for Law Placement, which found that the employment rate for recent law-school graduates has fallen to its lowest level since 1994, and only 85.6 percent of 2011 graduates whose employment status was known had jobs nine months after leaving law school.

The economy has been pretty bleak, especially for attorneys, but things may be looking up. If you’re like me, you believe that the best, brightest (and most persistent) will always be able to find jobs, even in the worst economy.

So follow your own path, like I’ve always tried to do. When you examine all the pros and cons and follow your heart, you’ll go in with your eyes wide open.

The bottom line is this: You’re a paralegal. You’ll figure out a way to make it work.

Oh, sweetheart, you don’t need law school. Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious. And you, button, are none of those things.  ~Elle’s father to Elle in Legally Blonde

The Paralegal Career: Women’s Work?

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When I was a teenager growing up in the Midwest during the 1970s, gender-specific jobs were the norm. If women worked outside the home at all, they were usually teachers, nurses, or hairdressers. Men were doctors, lawyers, and business owners. Attitudes of the past?  Maybe not. I read an interesting article last week about the […]

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Writing is refreshing. As often happens, the article that I just finished writing not only introduced me to some new concepts but also reinforced what I’ve already learned.  Funny how that happens, even when writing in a familiar niche.  That’s what I like most about writing – it provides continuing “life education credits” that everyone can […]

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I ran across an interesting blog post shared in one of my LinkedIn groups the other day entitled, “Now That Clients Won’t Pay for Training Young Associates, How are We Going to Teach Young Lawyers the Skills of Lawyering?” Good question, one that I’ve pondered before, because I think like a paralegal. At my first […]

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Paralegals are by nature bright, ambitious, and intuitive self-starters who don’t require a lot of guidance to get the job done. These are all great qualities that should be extremely desirable to employers, right? It depends. Enter the micro-managing boss. You might not recognize him as such right away. In fact, he is probably a […]

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The Paralegal Life: It Don’t Come Easy

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There’s an old Cheetos ad that goes something like this: “It ain’t easy being cheesy.” It shouldn’t be easy being a paralegal either. Unlike attorneys, paralegals do not have to be certified or licensed to call themselves paralegals. According to the American Bar Association, a person earns the paralegal designation either by completing a paralegal […]

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Next Step for Disbarred Attorney: a Paralegal Job?

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Most paralegals enter the profession via traditional methods, such as through experience working in a legal capacity or by completing a paralegal educational program. But some paralegals are actually disbarred and suspended attorneys who have reinvented themselves. While no state seems to be outwardly in favor of this practice, only six–Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode […]

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Striking it Rich: The Importance of the Paralegal Internship

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Many educational programs require that their students complete an internship. The value of the paralegal internship cannot be overstated. Think of it as the paralegal’s “golden ticket,” even though gold may have little to do with it.   When you’re a student, finding a place to intern can be a real…pain. But, alas: no pain, […]

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