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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Paralegal... Profession?

When I go into work, my attire is usually a step above business-casual. My job requires me to type correspondence, call courthouses and other law firms, draft real estate documents and litigation documents, speak with clients, write checks, file documents, research law, etc. I have been told by at least one new lawyer that I do more substantive legal work than he does.

Because of the nature of our business, many paralegals, myself included, call ourselves professionals. We see the paralegal field as a young, growing, and evolving profession. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not always agree with us.

While my attorney supervisor recognizes and appreciates the importance of my role in our small office, it seems that many other paralegals are set aside as mere laborors in the practice of law. This is as much our fault as it is the attorneys who put us there on the sidelines. After all, assistants in other fields oftenare recognized in a professional capacity. For example, people have no trouble acknowledging nurses as medical professionals.

Nurses have something we do not have, though. They have educational requirements and/or mandatory certification requirements. To enter into nursehood requires a certain level of knowledge that calling oneself a paralegal does not... yet.

I am the type of person who wants to be at the top of my profession, but I want it to be a challenge, not a given, that I will be there. I want to be proud to call myself a paralegal, but it is difficult to feel pride for my general occupation when the law firm down the street has a high school drop-out working for them, calling herself a "legal assistant".

Don't get me wrong; I detest the idea that someone's education or title somehow places him above others on the imaginary totem pole. I don't care about being better or smarter than others. But I care about my chosen profession having standards and requirements for me to check myself against. Speak to any lawyer, and her assistant is usually a crucial part of her practice. If lawyers are placing so much faith in us, shouldn't we rise to the occasion and have at least some uniform standards?

The National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Association of Legal Secretaries are both working toward this goal, but it takes effort on an individual state level to encourage and promote uniform certification standards. At least four states require certification on some level for someone to designate him/herself as a paralegal. We have 46 more to go.

If you are reading this blog as a legal professional, get involved! Contact your local legal organizations to find out what needs to be done to enhance our credibility as professionals. I understand that some attorneys and bar associations may feel threatened by the idea of certification requirements for paralegals, at first. But they only stand to benefit from better educated assistants who meet minimum requirements necessary to play such an important role in the law firm. If you run across any of these people, just have them call my boss to verify how having an educated, aspiring professional for a paralegal effects the day to day business of the law firm. Here's a hint: It helps... a lot.


  1. You seem like a very determined person who loves to strive for more. Keep that up.

  2. I could not agree more. The time has come to fully embrace paralegal as the true profession it has become. See my article: "Should education and training be required prior to being vested with the title paralegal?"

    James D. Scheffer

  3. Great post. The paralegal career is a great choice to make, but I feel that it should have some sort of mandatory requirements. That isn't to say that some with no formal education can't do the the job. My fear is more of the people now coming of age and looking for work. Do I rly want a paralegal that types n txt? No.

    Where I work we can dress casual. People can wear jeans, but they must be in very nice condition. No t-shirts unless it is a polo style with a collar. When we have clients in (and we always know in advance) we must dress business casual.

    I usually dress business casual, but took a break over the summer while my kids were out of school. I definitely noticed a difference. I prefer dressing well.

    I liken the subject to the history of American women. At one point it was deemed taboo for a woman to be educated. Eventually, though, people realized that instead of hindering a woman in finding a husband it helped. The husband liked having someone he could have an informed conversation with.