Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the skills and traits of a successful paralegal?
A: Successful paralegals are highly organized and detail-oriented. They enjoy problem-solving and can work well independently. They have excellent communication skills, and particularly, superior writing skills. They are accomplished in the use of technology. They are good at listening and following directions. They work well with the public and understand the necessity of maintaining client confidentiality. They act and dress professionally. Some employers suggest that paralegals should have a "thick skin" because attorneys can be short-tempered and abrupt when business needs are pressing.
Q: Why are paralegals needed?
A: Paralegals are needed because of the increasing amount and complexity of laws and regulations and because of public demand for lower-cost legal services. Using paralegals increases the efficiency and reduces the costs of delivering legal services.
Q: What do paralegals do?
A: While specific paralegal duties vary depending on the work setting, paralegals frequently conduct client and witness interviews, engage in investigations and legal research, draft legal documents and general correspondence, assist in trial preparation and during a trial, and prepare documents for real estate, probate, and corporate matters. All paralegal duties are conducted under the supervision of an attorney.
Q: What are paralegals prohibited from doing?
A: Paralegals may not provide legal services to the public, except as provided by law. Paralegals are prohibited from establishing attorney-client relationships, setting legal fees, signing legal pleadings, giving legal advice, and representing a client in court (unless specifically authorized by the court).
Q: What are the job requirements for working as a paralegal?
A: Employers' requirements vary widely. Some require a post-degree paralegal certificate in addition to a four-year college degree, others may accept a two-year associates' degree, and still others may not require any formal paralegal education as long as the individual has law office experience or is willing to be trained on the job. Frequently employers seek a paralegal with a combination of formal paralegal coursework at a college or university plus paralegal experience in a law office. Strong communication and analytical abilities, plus skill in using technology applications that are common in law offices (such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and legal research technology such as Westlaw) are usually preferred and may be required.
Q: Where do paralegals work?
A: Paralegals work in a variety of settings, including law firms, corporate law departments, government agencies, and business organizations, including banks, title companies, and insurance companies. Some paralegals also do freelance work for attorneys on special projects. Any work setting is permissible as long as attorney supervision of paralegal work is provided.
Q: What is the job market for paralegals?
A: The paralegal job market is growing rapidly. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for paralegals to grow by 28 percent by the year 2018 ( www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm#outlook). In Illinois, the job market for paralegals is also projected to grow by 25 percent by the year 2018. ( lmi.ides.state.il.us/projections/statefiles/IL0818LTOcc.pdf). In DuPage County, the projected growth rate for paralegals within the same time period is 28%. ( lmi.ides.state.il.us/projections/countyfiles/lt/occupational/DuPage.pdf).
However, as is noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "this occupation attracts many applicants, creating competition for jobs." ( www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm#outlook) Experienced, formally trained paralegals who have been successful in their paralegal studies classes and have strong writing and technology skills will have the best job prospects.
Q: How does the economic downturn affect job prospects?
A: During recessions, demand declines for discretionary legal services (wills, real estate), and corporations reduce certain types of law-related activity. However, demand increases for legal services in other areas, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces. Some paralegals may face layoffs and others may find themselves in more demand, depending on the nature of their work. Paralegals may fare better than lawyers during recessions because they provide some of the same legal services at a lower cost. ( www.bls.gov/oco/ocos114.htm#outlook). Please note that completion of the COD paralegal program does not guarantee employment as a paralegal. As noted above, paralegals who are most likely to obtain jobs following graduation are those who have done well in their paralegal studies classes and have strong writing and technology skills.
Q: How much money do paralegals make?
A: Paralegal salaries vary greatly depending on education, training and experience, as well as the type and size of the employer and the geographical location. Nationally, based on May 2009 data, the median annual wage for paralegals is estimated at $46,980. ( www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm#nat). However, current economic conditions have depressed salaries in all employment sectors.
Q: What are other benefits of being a paralegal?
A: Depending on the workplace and nature of the work, paralegals can experience high job satisfaction because they are frequently given a great deal of responsibility and independence in performing their work (although their work is reviewed by the supervising attorney). In addition, many paralegals meet the public on a regular basis. Paralegal jobs can offer much variety as well as intellectual challenges, and paralegals experience the rewards of serving a client’s needs as part of a legal team.
Q: How long does it take to complete the Paralegal Studies program at COD?
A: The length of the program varies depending upon the program in which you are enrolled. College of DuPage has two program tracks, one for students seeking a college degree (Associate in Applied Science -AAS degree program), and another for students who already have either a two-year or four-year degree and are seeking a post-degree Paralegal Certificate (Certificate Program). Students without previous college credit who attend school full-time (15 to 18 credit hours per semester) can obtain an Associate in Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies in two years. Students with a college degree who attend school full time (12 to 15 credit hours per semester) can obtain a Paralegal Certificate in one year.
However, the courses are rigorous and demanding, and it may be in the student’s best interests to take less than a full load each semester. There is no required time period within which to complete the program.
Q: What credentials and background are important to employers when hiring paralegals?
A: Employers tell us that job qualifications that are important to them include a candidate's formal education and training as a paralegal, the candidate's experience working in a law office, and the candidate's job skills. Strong technology skills and communication skills (written and oral) are particularly valued by employers.
Q: What is the paralegal practicum that is required in the program? Will it help me
gain job experience?
A: The required paralegal practicum, PLGL 2600, is an excellent way to obtain job experience. The student performs 120 hours of paralegal work during the semester (approximately eight hours per week during the fall and spring semesters), working in a law office under the supervision of an attorney. In addition, required seminars on campus provide the students with information about resume writing, interviewing skills, creating a professional portfolio, and creating a personal website for posting an electronic portfolio. The program culminates in a "Portfolio Expo" in which area attorneys, practicing paralegals, and other career professionals review and critique the students' portfolios, ask mock interview questions, and provide constructive information about obtaining employment as a paralegal. Students are eligible to enroll in the practicum after they have been admitted into the program and taken PLGL 1200 - Civil Litigation, PLGL 1500 - Introduction to Legal Research and Writing, and PLGL 1250 - Legal Ethics and Law Office Organizations. Instructor consent to enroll in the practicum is also required. There is a separate application that must be completed approximately ten weeks before the beginning of the semester in which the student seeks to enroll in the class. The form can be found at www.cod.edu/paralegal/pdf/paralegal_practicum_app_form.pdf.
Q: How do I find a job site to perform the work required by the paralegal practicum?
A: Students are expected to locate a practicum site on their own by undertaking a self-directed search, which gives them valuable job-search skills. The Coordinator provides a letter of introduction for the students to use as they search for their internship, as well as a list of prospective internship sites and a variety of resources for obtaining an internship. Before receiving the instructor's consent to enroll in the practicum, students must demonstrate that they have obtained a practicum site, or have made significant efforts to obtain one. Students who have difficulty obtaining a practicum site can seek suggestions from the Program Coordinator. Students currently working in a law office may use their existing job to fulfill the work requirement for the practicum, as long as their supervisor is an attorney who agrees to serve as their site mentor and assign them paralegal work that is outside the scope of their ordinary duties.
More about the Paralegal Practicum.
Q: How much does it cost to complete the paralegal program at COD?
A: The AAS degree program is either 67 credit hours or 70 credit hours, depending on which math class you take. If you take Math 1100, you will also need to take Psychology 1100 or Sociology 1100, which brings the AAS degree program up to 70 credit hours. However, if you take Math 1218, you do not need to take the additional psychology or sociology class. Therefore, the AAS degree program will cost either $8,884 for 67 credit hours or $9,240 for 70 credit hours. If you already have a college degree, you will be in the certificate program, which is 27 credit hours, but will increase to 33 credit hours in Fall 2011. At the current tuition rates, the certificate program will cost $4,356 in Fall 2011 and thereafter. Visit Tuition and Aid for the current tuition rate.
Q: Where should I go for more information?
A: Please contact the program coordinator, Sally N. Fairbank, at email@example.com, or call (630) 942-2955 for more information about the program.
Sally N. Fairbank, Coordinator
Berg Instructional Center (BIC), Room 1816A, (630) 942-2955
Bev Carlson, Program Support Specialist
Technical Education Center (TEC), Room 1008, (630) 942-2140
Business and Technology Division
Technical Education Center (TEC), Room 1034, (630) 942-2592