Stuck in a secretarial rut? Tired of answering phones and mindlessly typing out minutes? Why not upskill yourself and become a paralegal? This stimulating career move may be just what you need to get you loving your job again.
Why do it?
The day-to-day responsibilities of a paralegal offer a lot of excitement. As a paralegal, you may be directly involved in preparing legal cases. While you will not be qualified to argue in court yourself, you will assist the supervising attorney in researching the relevant laws and preparing the facts for presentation in court. Similarly, while you may not give legal advice, you may be responsible for interviewing clients. You will meet many interesting people and learn new things as you become more familiar with the law.
On average, a paralegal earns much more than a general secretary, and the opportunity for advancement is great. Starting out, you may not earn much more than you did as an office assistant, but as you gain experience and the trust of your supervising attorneys, you will soon exceed any income you could have expected to earn as a secretary.
Paralegals also have a great opportunity to right the wrongs of the world around them. A famous example of a paralegal who made a difference in the world is Erin Brockovich. Like her, you could use your position to find injustices and bring them to light, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.
What do you need?
As a secretary, you'll already have many of the basic requirements that a paralegal needs for their day-to-day work. You'll have experience with various word processing and spreadsheet programs, and you'll have organisational and time-management skills.
However, you will also need to learn many aspects of legal research, such as how to find relevant legislation and case law. You will need to know where to look and what to look for. This means that will need a good grasp of the particular fields of law that your supervising attorneys specialise in.
You also need to understand legal terminology and jargon, which will include learning the meanings of many Latin phrases. You will need legal writing skills so that you can prepare memos for the attorney to review, draft legal correspondence and write case briefs.
To start out as a paralegal, you will usually be expected to have a diploma. However, if you work as a secretary for a legal firm, or in an environment where legal systems play an important role, you can work your way into a paralegal position without having the qualification. If you make yourself available for new responsibilities, you can soon learn all you need to know on the job, and then apply for a paralegal position when one becomes available.
The part-time University of Cape Town Paralegal Practitioner short course is presented online throughout South Africa and starts on 17 October 2011. Call Nikita on 021 447 7565 or visit www.GetSmarter.co.za for more information.
By Andrea Vavruch