Paralegal Jobs: It Will Be Worth It, Right?

On the Drunkasaurusrex blog, the author writes about how his higher education broadened his horizons, sparked intellectual curiosities, and basically did all the things that it’s supposed to do. But then (cue horror music) he took a paralegal job after graduating. What happened?

I was very much on that path until I settled into a well-paying paralegal job right out of college that required long hours and very little critical thinking. My first assignment was to put 75,000 printed out emails in chronological order and remove the duplicates. It took four months and a piece of my spirit. A year later, I was charged with assembling the Plaintiffs and Defendants trial exhibits from a previous case into binders for review. Each side had 2500 exhibits. By this time I’d earned enough leeway in my position to make certain executive decisions. It was up to me, and me alone, to determine which set would go in blue binders and which set would go in black binders. The Defendants exhibits would go in the black binders, I decided, because the Defendants were bad and black is the bad guy color. This project took two months to complete and culminated in a knockdown, drag out scream fest in my manager’s office during my review when she told me the main reason I wasn’t getting a full raise was because the exhibit binder project took longer than it should have. Shit like this went on for close to four years.

Why oh why do class after class of smart college graduates put themselves through this misery in their early go-go years? It will all be worth it, right? 80 hour-work weeks in NY doing i-banking will be worth it, right?  Right? Hello?

9 Responses to Paralegal Jobs: It Will Be Worth It, Right?

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    All that hard work will no doubt pay off in spades when his job is outsourced to India.

    Bottom line: If your work does not create value, find another line of work.

  2. Ramit Sethi says:

    I heard this all the time in college. “I’ll just do this job for a few years until I can *really* do what I want” is such a common phrase. The thing is, it becomes hard to walk away from a certain kind of lifestyle once you have it.

    I once received an offer from a tech company in Silicon Valley. They were explaining the offer and one of the particular rating mechanisms they have is a 5-point scale. The recruiter said something like, “Most people get a 3, a couple people in your position have gotten a 4, but no one at your level has ever gotten a 5.” I instantly began saying to myself, ‘I could get a 5′ and thinking of ways to make that happen.

    But it took a second to step back and ask myself if that was something I even wanted at all. (I didn’t.)

  3. Hubbard says:

    Since I actually am a paralegal, here’s a few thoughts and observations.

    First, there are some decent law firms to work for, plus some profoundly awful ones. It sounds like Drunkasaurus landed at one of the latter. Why he stayed there so long is odd, but I have some more thoughts about that in the next point. A small firm may not have a big name, but it’s usually more interesting than the massive places. The big names can afford to treat people like garbage; small places can’t coast on a name, so when they treat good people badly, they leave, and the small firm goes under.

    Second, if you’re given a lot of mindless tasks like that as a paralegal, you should leave. Seriously: you shouldn’t be billing a client $100-300/hour for work that a computer or a vendor can do (I know quite a few software programs that can do that e-mail project in a few days, for example). Those kinds of projects happen quite regularly, and the fact that his supervisor chewed him out over taking too much time makes me suspect that Drunkasaurus wasn’t taking the job seriously. (By way of comparison, I once had to put 3500 exhibits in binders and make triplicate copies, and I managed it in a week. Two months for 5000? It’s not passing the smell test.) A sign of bad law firms is that they waste time and talent and don’t fire idiots. Mediocrity reproduces like rabbits.

    Third, if you want to learn law, you will probably learn more about how reality works as a paralegal than you will at law school–and certainly more than you will as a Summer Associate. I spent a fair amount of time once cleaning up the mess a Summer made; law school may teach you many things, but how to be a lawyer is usually not one of them. I now have four years of experience at two law firms. The smart junior associates listen to me when I tell them they’re walking off a cliff.

    Fourth, if you’re uncertain about the law, being a paralegal is a good introduction to what lawyers actually do. Unlike law school, you get paid and aren’t going into debt. If you decide you don’t like law after being a paralegal for a year, you’ve saved yourself from going to law school, which a fair number of lawyers discover too late.

    Fifth, if after being a paralegal you still go to law school, you have an idea of the work that people below you do, which makes you a better boss. Quite a few attorneys have no idea how massive the projects they assign are. I knew one partner who had begun a paralegal, and she was fantastic to work for.

    Sixth, if you’re a paralegal at a good firm, the hours are decent. It gives you time to read, to study, and to be active in a community. Your skills are in demand. When my first firm became intolerable, I circulated a resume and found a new job in 3 weeks. Leaving is fairly easy to do because finding new places is relatively easy to do (much more so for a paralegal than for a lawyer, actually).

    Seventh, it’s only misery if you approach it with either the wrong attitude or a bad understanding of the job. If you’re willing to learn from it, and know what you’re worth, being a paralegal is a great job.

  4. ElamBend says:

    I worked as a paralegal for eight months after school, the last four months just saving money for a trip. It wasn’t a good firm for paralegals (in the manner that Hubbard defined), but frankly, I was not a good paralegal either because once I decided I didn’t like it, it was hard to motivate. I should have left even quicker.

    That being said, I did go to law school and although I don’t practice, I engage lawyers often for my business work. Of Hubbard’s comments, #5 is very important within the law firm.

    Also, a good paralegal, a really good one is like gold and diamonds put together. Their existence and importance belies the alleged value of law school, and a firm that doesn’t support its associates with paralegals, particularly well-trained ones is asking for trouble.

  5. Krishna Mony says:

    “80 hour-work weeks in NY doing i-banking will be worth it, right?”

    Now you know why frauds are rampant in Wall Street I-Banking ecosystem.

    The seeds are sown during those early, dreary years when they learn a lot of bad habits. Here they get the first feel of the good life of iconic bankers, brokers and fund managers. Spurred by their vanities and pay that is geared to short-term gains, they lose sight of long term consequences of their adventures. The intern gets his gambling instincts from that point fed by the knowledge that, if disaster struck, someone else—borrowers, investors, taxpayers—would end up bearing at least some of the losses.

    Little do they realize until their own near and dear ones face foreclosures or file for bankruptcy – primarily because they contrived an instrument that led them to it.

  6. Layman says:

    Love the blog, Ben. I have to ask you-you criticize fresh outta college types for hopping on the ole law school/i-banking wagon, yet you don’t suggest a better, more fulfilling career path for them to take. The fact is that a dude like me with a (albeit highly scored) soft BA is not gonna get a job that has limitless expansion opputunity/a promise for being well reimbursed for your work. If I walked up to any big investment firm they would tell me to go fly a kite. With a law degree I can at least get my foot in the door. I interviewed for a paralegal job but when they decribed the type of work that I would be doing I walked away. At least as a lawyer I can use my brain sometimes.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Layman: In the end it’s up to the person. Legal jobs can actually be quite fulfilling for some.

  8. Why The Paralegal Job Is An Excellent Choice For A Career Change!!!
    There are many reasons why a person may consider beginning a new career in mid-life. You may have dedicated many years to raising your family, or you may have gone into a line of work that you did not necessarily like due to necessity, or you may have been one of the many who simply did not know at a young age what type of work was best suited to you.Whichever one of these categories best describes you, you may now be at a stage where you would like very much to go into a field of work that you will truly enjoy.
    As a paralegal, it is essential to have good resources. This is true whether you are still studying, or whether you are already working in the field. Everything from the regions which offer the most jobs, particular hiring processes, salary information, and regulations surrounding educational requirements, are all topics that it is wise to keep up-to-date with their current status. To read more Please click the link

    Ricky Martin

  9. James says:

    You will get paid off eventually and legal career will fulfill your comfort living without worrying about change your career again.

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