Would you like to work in a law office without spending three long years accumulating debt in law school? Would you like to work on legal cases without being personally responsible for their outcome? Would you like to make a decent living doing interesting work in a comfortable setting?
Are you organized and detail-oriented? Do you enjoy dealing with people and working on deadline in a fast-paced environment?
If so, joining the paralegal profession might be for you. It was for Becky Maxson, a litigation paralegal at Nexsen Pruet in Charleston. “I love what I do for a living,” she said.
Demand for paralegals continues to grow. The South Carolina Department of Labor and Workforce has projected 20% growth in South Carolina paralegal jobs from 2012 to 2022, roughly twice the rate of growth of other professions. That demand has driven salaries to just under $45,000 in the Lowcountry, according to a 2014 report of the American Bar Association.
Paralegals are indispensable to the operation of a law practice, says Meliah Bowers-Jefferson, a business litigation and intellectual property attorney with the Wyche Law Firm in Greenville. She cites one complex mediation that required the use of litigation presentation software.
“My paralegal was instrumental in ensuring that all documents were properly uploaded, highlighted and sequenced for presentation,” she said. “Had she not been able to get that done for me I would have spent a lot of time on it instead of actually preparing for the substance of the presentation.”
Becky Maxson says her 25-year career as a paralegal has taken her all over the country, even once aboard a charter flight. She enjoys investigating cases, interacting with clients, analyzing documents and anticipating the needs of the attorneys she assists.
The best part of her job, she says, is that her employers make it clear what they need and when – and then gives her autonomy and flexibility to get the job done. Because she attends mediation sessions and trials, she says, “I’m not chained to a desk.”
By law, there are no educational requirements for a paralegal, but Bowers-Jefferson, who chairs the SC Board of Paralegal Certification, says law firms generally won’t hire a paralegal without legal training. Maxson, who has a bachelor’s degree and national certification, says the job market is leaning towards paralegals with four-year degrees and specific legal training.
The University of South Carolina offers a six-month, fast-track Paralegal Studies Certificate Program for prospective paralegals who already have a bachelor’s degree or four years of professional work experience.
Being a paralegal “takes a certain breed of cat,” said Maxson. “You have to be organized, have good communication skills, maintain confidentiality, and so on. You’re involved in the whole process of a case.”