I’ve worked as an intellectual property paralegal for six years now. Prior to that, I was a paralegal assistant at a law firm that specialized in complex litigation. I started out in the legal field as a receptionist nearly 15 years ago.
My work today is varied and challenging. It involves a lot of reading and writing and requires strict attention to detail. Even the smallest typographical error can make us look bad.
I would rate my job satisfaction at around an eight. On some days it’s higher than others! Every day is different and brings different challenges. Some days this job is overwhelming. However, I’m a goal-oriented person and I love to get things done. I make prioritized lists and there is so much satisfaction in being able to cross off an item! I far prefer being busy to having not enough to do. I love that this job plays to my strengths with reading and writing. I think that’s where my natural abilities lie, so it’s nice to do work that feels natural to me.
I’m not certain that I would categorize this job as my calling, but it pays the bills and it's certainly interesting. Our clients invent everything from hydrogen fuel cells to syrups for Italian sodas – there’s always something new.
I have never earned a degree or certificate in paralegal studies. My degree is in English Literature. Consequently, it took me longer to get hired as a paralegal, but working my way up the ranks really let me hit the ground running.
I was working as a secretary for a huge company that was downsizing quickly. I needed to find a new job, and fast. One of the first interviews I went to was for a receptionist position at a law firm. The rest is history as I gradually worked my way up.
The law firm where I began my career would only allow me to climb so high and then no higher. I stalled out at being a paralegal assistant, but knew I was capable of more. Eventually I decided that I had to leave the firm I had been with for several years if I was ever going to advance. It was sad to leave the people I’d been working with for so long, but ultimately the switch has been good for me and my career.
I learned that often what is taught in school does not translate well in the real world. Many paralegals who have paralegal degrees have noted that the real learning happens on the job and not in the classroom. That degree can make it easier to get a foot in the door, but the new paralegal fresh out of school is basically starting at square one.
Sometimes I think strange things happen every day! I guess that’s what happens when you work with different law firms around the world. The intellectual property laws are so different from one country to the next!
I think a sense of being needed at the office keeps me getting up in the morning. Over the years I’ve acquired quite a bit of important knowledge that the office might have difficulty without. This is a specialized legal field and paralegals with this kind of experience are fairly rare.
I suppose I really want to pull out my hair when we get correspondence from an attorney in China or Brazil or somewhere else in the world and the English in the letter is so bad that I have no idea what they’re trying to tell us. That’s frustrating!
My job is occasionally very stressful. Nonetheless, I do manage to keep a good work-life balance by being determined to do so. It helps that my boss encourages everyone to not focus on work every hour of the day.
Experienced paralegals can easily make between $50,000-$60,000 annually. It takes awhile to get there, but the salary is worth it.
At my firm I’ve got three weeks of vacation each year and six personal/sick days. I take almost all of my vacation days every year. My boss encourages us to do so. He doesn’t want anyone getting burned out!
Attention to detail is critical, as are written and oral communication skills. Most firms like to see a paralegal degree or certificate, but it’s possible to get started with a four year degree and determination.
Be flexible! No matter how you plan to spend the day, you quickly discover that just one phone call or email can completely derail that plan!
In five years I’d rather be spending my days writing books, but if I’m still working as a paralegal I’m all right with that too.
This is a true story as told to LatPro.com, the worldwide leader in providing online employment resources for Hispanic and bilingual professionals. LatPro is the largest diversity employment site in the U.S. and the most complete personal career advancement service for Latino and bilingual professionals. Read the following interview with a Paralegal and get started on your job search today.