If you’re considering earning a paralegal certificate, here are a few things you should consider that schools will not tell you.
I attended an excellent program at Loyola University in Chicago. The program is ABA-approved and is considered a post- baccalaureatecertificate which means you are not eligible for financial aid. I repeat, you will not receive any grants-only federal loans IF you are eligible.
The degree can be done in about 4 quarters or 8 months, if you attend full-time. The 2010-2011 tuition is $570 per credit hour, a student activity fee of $75 (full-time), a technology fee of $66 (full-time), you will need to pay a $55 fee for use of Lexis/Westlaw for 3 semesters, and a matriculation fee of $100. Not including textbooks (which tend to be fairly pricy) or transportation costs (the CTA is $88 a month for unlimited use), this comes to a total of $14, 509.
My introduction class to paralegal studies was great and the instructor was knowledgeable. I then took Legal Writing & Research I, Civil Litigation I, and Basic Business Organization and Contracts. I enjoyed my classes and was very excited about my career; until I actually began my career.
I have now had experience in three separate law firms; one as a litigation clerk, one as a paralegal intern, and another as a paralegal clerk. They were both the worst jobs I ever had and I am now changing careers, and here is why:
1. You will be everybody’s butt. I cannot stress enough how poorly paralegals are treated. They are not respected, they are over worked, and they get the short end of the stick in the law office. Lawyers will assign challenging work to paralegals and take all the credit, including the pay. Personally, I have had the opposite problem- they are extremely cautious with assigning work and won’t let you do anything. I have had attorneys do things like hand me money and tell me to grab them lunch on my way to do court filings, or to run a personal errand. I found that to be extremely insulting and frustrating.
2. You will be underpaid. According to the 2009 Survey of Salaries and Benefits, which polled Illinois Paralegal Association members, 100 respondents reported their salaries and the median compensation is $67,000. However, in Chicago, according to Indeed.com it is $52,000, Salary.com reports $51,838, and Simply Hired reports $51,000. This salary may or may not sound generous, but I think that you will find that once you realize the value of your work you will find that it is low. Paralegals often do tasks that attorneys do, but for much less than half the salary.
3. It is high stress, competitive, and there are a lot of unjust practices in law firms. The market is extremely competitive and hard to break into. You will most likely “work” for free as an intern or a clerk at first. Law offices are not friendly places and there is a rigid hierarchy that will drive you mad if you believe in equality. Unless you are a partner (who can come and go as they please, take naps on their couches, yell when they feel like it, etc.), you will be subject how your office manager and attorneys feel like treating you. They will have different rules for every employee and it all has to do with their status.
*If you are a paralegal, you will NEVER rise above an attorney. A young attorney make walk into the office and act as snarky as he or she wants-and you will be below them despite any of your skills.
So, if you are considering pursuing a degree in paralegal studies, I strongly suggest taking an internship or job (if you can find one) as soon as possible to decide for yourself if you really want to drop $15,000+ on a degree. There are of course, two sides to a coin and eventually I will also submit some articles on pros to the occupation. One thing I did learn from my studies is to be objective and to be aware differing perspectives.