Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

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miklos
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Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby miklos » Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:39 pm

I'm straight out of undergrad and was looking to apply as an entry level paralegal/legal assistant at a law firm for a couple years before applying to Law School. As I was looking through multiple firm's websites, I found out that instead of paralegals/legal assistants they were looking for project/case assistants. I was wondering if they were the same thing or perhaps the appropriate thing for recent undergrads. It's an entry level position and project assistants seem to be entry level. Again, some law firms have entry level paralegals while others have entry level project assistants. I was wondering what the differences and similarities were and also if it these jobs are appropriate for people like me who are looking to go to law school in the next year or so.

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ilovelawtays
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby ilovelawtays » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:05 pm

My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.

bobbyh1919
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby bobbyh1919 » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:09 pm

ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


I don't think law schools will care much about what OP does, but firms down the road might give him or her a boost if they see that the OP had previously been a paralegal/legal assistant in their market. That's the real bonus here in addition to the saved up money.

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ilovelawtays
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby ilovelawtays » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:31 pm

bobbyh1919 wrote:
ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


I don't think law schools will care much about what OP does, but firms down the road might give him or her a boost if they see that the OP had previously been a paralegal/legal assistant in their market. That's the real bonus here in addition to the saved up money.


I have no idea how applying for jobs after law school works, but my guess is that showing you did work in a support staff role doesn't really impress bosses that want to hire for an attorney role. The point of interning, clerking, or summering during law school is to get experience in an attorney role, right? That stuff should be going on the resume.

bobbyh1919
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby bobbyh1919 » Thu Jul 19, 2012 9:32 pm

ilovelawtays wrote:
bobbyh1919 wrote:
ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


I don't think law schools will care much about what OP does, but firms down the road might give him or her a boost if they see that the OP had previously been a paralegal/legal assistant in their market. That's the real bonus here in addition to the saved up money.


I have no idea how applying for jobs after law school works, but my guess is that showing you did work in a support staff role doesn't really impress bosses that want to hire for an attorney role. The point of interning, clerking, or summering during law school is to get experience in an attorney role, right? That stuff should be going on the resume.


I'm not going to engage too much in this given how you opened your last post, but I think it makes sense that a demonstrated ability to handle a heavy workload say, in a busy NYC firm would give you a leg up over your K-JD counterparts. By no means is it a huge boost, but ITE it has to be a plus from an experience/networking standpoint.

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Chucky21
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby Chucky21 » Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:47 pm

bobbyh1919 wrote:
ilovelawtays wrote:
bobbyh1919 wrote:
ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


I don't think law schools will care much about what OP does, but firms down the road might give him or her a boost if they see that the OP had previously been a paralegal/legal assistant in their market. That's the real bonus here in addition to the saved up money.


I have no idea how applying for jobs after law school works, but my guess is that showing you did work in a support staff role doesn't really impress bosses that want to hire for an attorney role. The point of interning, clerking, or summering during law school is to get experience in an attorney role, right? That stuff should be going on the resume.


I'm not going to engage too much in this given how you opened your last post, but I think it makes sense that a demonstrated ability to handle a heavy workload say, in a busy NYC firm would give you a leg up over your K-JD counterparts. By no means is it a huge boost, but ITE it has to be a plus from an experience/networking standpoint.


I can imagine that it can be a positive if spun as such. I would also imagine you don't want to give the idea that you know how to be an attorney because you were a legal assistant. Having a tabula rasa mind frame is prob preferable for firms so that they can mold you and train you. Don't pick up bad habits as a legal assitant as this will make you less attractive than K-JDs.

viper5dn
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby viper5dn » Fri Jul 20, 2012 5:13 am

I graduated from college in '09 and got a job as a "Practice Assistant" (same as case assistants at places like Cooley) at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (got to work with some amazing folks there, btw). After about a year I was promoted to paralegal (in a California office). I quit at the beginning of summer to do some traveling before law school this fall. I don't know how much my work at Pillsbury helped my law school apps but they certainly didn't hurt. Some key things, if you want to work at a larger firm in the future I HIGHLY suggest you look at working at an AmLaw 100 firm before law school to get an idea of what it's like. Law Schools have a better idea of the work that you'll be doing if it's a well established firm, Practice Assistants and Paralegals at top firms basically all do the same thing--the terms could be very different at small firms so it's harder to gauge from title alone. The attorneys and staff I got to work with at Pillsbury were absolutely great and helped inform my decision to go to law school tremendously. The cases I got to work on were all substantive; it was not an experience I could have gotten very easily at a smaller firm.

Biglaw Practice Assist/Paralegal jobs can be really hard to come by now. It used to be that every practice group had ten or fifteen practice assistants, now there are only about ten spread out through the whole firm. Paralegal hires at big firms are almost exclusively those with a decent amount of experience in whatever practice is hiring, so that's probably not your best bet. The easiest way to find a good gig is to start asking around to friends/family to see if they personally know of any good entry level legal job openings.

Btw, most firms will ask for at least a two year commitment. It takes a lot of work on the firm's part to adequately train you if you're going to be doing any substantive work.

miklos
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby miklos » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:24 pm

thanks guys
yea ive been applying as a case/project/legal/practice assistant and i think it will help me boost my resume and chances at law schools if i land the right job at a top law firm
appreciate guys

bobbyh1919
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby bobbyh1919 » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:18 pm

miklos wrote:thanks guys
yea ive been applying as a case/project/legal/practice assistant and i think it will help me boost my resume and chances at law schools if i land the right job at a top law firm
appreciate guys


This is probably true to a certain degree, but if you're going to take a few years off, think about retaking the LSAT. I can say this comfortably without even knowing your score. Unless you already have a 173+, recognize that a 5 point LSAT boost will probably do way more for you than a few years as a legal assistant.

westie25
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby westie25 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 8:09 pm

...
Last edited by westie25 on Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

westie25
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby westie25 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 8:11 pm

ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


Or...it's because they do ALL of the work.

(Speaking from experience.)

westie25
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby westie25 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 8:16 pm

ilovelawtays wrote:
bobbyh1919 wrote:
ilovelawtays wrote:My understanding is that a lot of states are now requiring paralegals to obtain a certificate before they can actually call themselves paralegals. Paralegals that have been practicing in X state for several years can be grandfathered in.

My guess would be that a project/legal/case assistant would perform tasks such as: filing, creating binders, opening new claims in a database, running conflict checks, labeling exhibits, handling very routine correspondence, and maybe handling incoming mail/an attorney's calendar.

A paralegal would be expected to know how to do all of the above, and also be able to handle different aspects of research, case management, client/opp. counsel/court correspondence, and the drafting of motions, discovery responses, and other documents, and definitely managing/verifying anything having to do with the calendar. The stereotype that paralegals "do all the work" in law offices stems from the fact that they do a lot of work.

Depending on your state and the firms in your area, you may be able to get a paralegal job without the certification, if you're into the title.

And, in case you are curious about a certification, I don't think it's worthwhile to spend several months and few grand on one. Working in a law firm is not going to necessarily make you more attractive to law schools, but having familiarity with legal terms and procedure will help you a little bit when you're actually in law school. Like, a very little bit.


I don't think law schools will care much about what OP does, but firms down the road might give him or her a boost if they see that the OP had previously been a paralegal/legal assistant in their market. That's the real bonus here in addition to the saved up money.


I have no idea how applying for jobs after law school works, but my guess is that showing you did work in a support staff role doesn't really impress bosses that want to hire for an attorney role. The point of interning, clerking, or summering during law school is to get experience in an attorney role, right? That stuff should be going on the resume.


Replace "intern," "clerk," and "summering" with "what a paralegal does" and you will get what most of those interns, clerks, and summer interns do for law firms when they're brought on to work for free. Having previous legal experience will not hinder OP's job prospects, but it may increase what job duties OP is given during her work as a law student intern. By having previous law experience, OP is showing that the nuts and bolts of "Working in a Law Firm 101" are already in place.

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ilovelawtays
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby ilovelawtays » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:15 pm

We've had two very different experiences working as assistants/paralegals/whatever in law firms. I've worked in about five different practice areas over six years and have never felt like I've done all the work. I've seen interns and clerks come and go, and the vast majority have been given projects that an attorney would do (but are not necessarily time sensitive). The interns that bombed were eventually shuttered into legal assistant type roles, but the ones who did well got to do some real work.

The point is that OP wants to know what will help him get into law school, and I don't think working in the legal field will help as much as OP thinks or hopes it will. Maybe if he has some sort of crazy amazing experience, but the likelihood is that he won't. He'll learn about some area of the field, decide if he likes that area, and decide if he is actually interested in pursuing other areas.

Do I think it's likely he'll be able to explore a bunch of different areas in two years, find one he actually likes, and then stick with that through law school and parlay pre-law experience into credible experience for an attorney job? No. Do I think working in the legal field prior to law school and an attorney gig will hurt him? No. I just don't think it's likely that a couple years of legal assisting or whatever will help as much as he wants.

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sundance95
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby sundance95 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:31 pm

My time working as a para helped more with respect to how well I did in law school, rather than getting into law school in the first place.

Joeshan520
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby Joeshan520 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:43 pm

Doing this now. Depends a lot on the size of the firm. I work at a V10 and very rarely IF EVER do I get to help draft motions or briefs with the exception of cite checking. Legal assistants are pretty much in the same boat at big firms accept the higher you progress from peon to educated serf (or project assistant to senior legal assistant) the more you facilitate interaction between attorneys rather than actually doing the grunt work that project assistants or spreadsheet monkeys do. Inevitably it depends on the size of the firm and how bureaucratic everything is. I'd imagine you'd get more hands on experience at a smller firm but smaller cases and less $$$. It's really a brain drain though to be honest, make sure you keep your mind stimulated. On the same token, as an associate told me at my firm, don't let the paralegal grunt work deter you from practice it's almost entirely different (he worked as a para at a mid size before landing a biglaw gig after law school. Do TFA, signing off!

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sundance95
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby sundance95 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:50 pm

This is a good point. My experience was at a12 atty shop that was slammed with work, which meant that I had opportunities to do substantive work.

Joeshan520
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby Joeshan520 » Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:58 pm

sundance95 wrote:This is a good point. My experience was at a12 atty shop that was slammed with work, which meant that I had opportunities to do substantive work.


And this is precisely why I may be heading to a smaller shop.

westie25
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby westie25 » Mon Jul 23, 2012 9:59 pm

Joeshan520 wrote:Doing this now. Depends a lot on the size of the firm. I work at a V10 and very rarely IF EVER do I get to help draft motions or briefs with the exception of cite checking. Legal assistants are pretty much in the same boat at big firms accept the higher you progress from peon to educated serf (or project assistant to senior legal assistant) the more you facilitate interaction between attorneys rather than actually doing the grunt work that project assistants or spreadsheet monkeys do. Inevitably it depends on the size of the firm and how bureaucratic everything is. I'd imagine you'd get more hands on experience at a smller firm but smaller cases and less $$$. It's really a brain drain though to be honest, make sure you keep your mind stimulated. On the same token, as an associate told me at my firm, don't let the paralegal grunt work deter you from practice it's almost entirely different (he worked as a para at a mid size before landing a biglaw gig after law school. Do TFA, signing off!


I agree with most of what you said. Except I disagree about not letting the paralegal grunt work deter you. If you absolutely hate working in a law firm, becoming an attorney is not going to change that. It's the exact same atmosphere, but now you have triple the pressure and some more debt to pay off. This is one of the reasons I'm telling the OP to get a job in the legal field before law school to test it out, and something I would tell anyone wanting to go to law school. Try it out first!

An experience at a law firm can make you decide if it's really what you want. You may not be doing attorney work, but you will get to see the work the attorneys get. You'll get to see how the attorneys feel about being an attorney, working in the law firm, the workload, balancing family life, law school, etc. It gives a person a lot more insight than the typical person going into law school. Plus, it will set a foundation once a person enters law school. You'll know how to read caselaw, cite cases, the standard legalese, standard legal document drafting, etc. All of those are extremely beneficial to someone wishing to enter law school and eventually become an attorney.
Last edited by westie25 on Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Joeshan520
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby Joeshan520 » Thu Jul 26, 2012 2:03 am

I agree with most of what you said. Except I disagree about not letting the paralegal grunt work deter you. If you absolutely hate working in a law firm, becoming an attorney is not going to change that. It's the exact same atmosphere, but now you have triple the pressure and some more debt to pay off. This is one of the reasons I'm telling the OP to get a job in the legal field before law school to test it out, and something I would tell anyone wanting to go to law school. Try it out first!

An experience at a law firm can make you decide if it's really what you want. You may not be doing attorney work (although, that's pretty much all I did for 6 1/2 years), but you will get to see the work the attorneys get. You'll get to see how the attorneys feel about being an attorney, working in the law firm, the workload, balancing family life, law school, etc. It gives a person a lot more insight than the typical person going into law school. Plus, it will set a foundation once a person enters law school. You'll know how to read caselaw, cite cases, the standard legalese, standard legal document drafting, etc. All of those are extremely beneficial to someone wishing to enter law school and eventually become an attorney.


I agree with legal experience as invaluable to deepening one's perspective into the field. However, I don't think the paralegal work is nearly as stimulating as legal work from what ive experienced at the biglaw firm. I said to OP its a brain drain and doesn't really require deep analytical thinking at bigger firms. It is, however, important to understand what you're getting yourself into before investing hard time and money into the education.

getemgoon
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby getemgoon » Tue Jul 31, 2012 1:19 am

big firms will have project assistant positions - where they will hire you for 2 a yr stint, mostly hired out of undergrad. as noted above, paralegals at big firms usually require previous experience.

i work at a 10attorney firm as a legal assistant, and get to work on substantial cases. while it is less money than my friends that are legal secretaries/assistants at the big firms, but the work is very meaningful and i'm not just filing/docketing/billing. also, it's solidified my decision to go to law school.

more importantly, working for 2-3 yrs after undergrad before attending law school is the best decision i've made - in terms of growing up, maturing, learning to budget ---> post-college problems. i think you've made a great choice.

good luck with your job search.

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magp90
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Re: Project Assistant vs. Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Postby magp90 » Fri Aug 10, 2012 10:56 am

getemgoon wrote:big firms will have project assistant positions - where they will hire you for 2 a yr stint, mostly hired out of undergrad. as noted above, paralegals at big firms usually require previous experience.

i work at a 10attorney firm as a legal assistant, and get to work on substantial cases. while it is less money than my friends that are legal secretaries/assistants at the big firms, but the work is very meaningful and i'm not just filing/docketing/billing. also, it's solidified my decision to go to law school.

more importantly, working for 2-3 yrs after undergrad before attending law school is the best decision i've made - in terms of growing up, maturing, learning to budget ---> post-college problems. i think you've made a great choice.

good luck with your job search.


I agree. I'm currently working as a paralegal/legal assistant/what have you at a smaller law firm, and I've found that they are more willing to even tailor my work to help me get exposure to the kinds of research and work that I would do both in law school and later on in my career. I had gotten an offer from a major law firm to work as a legal secretary with a specialized task that I would have done day-in and day-out for at least a year. I would have probably been paid better, but I would have gotten no exposure and probably gained little insight into what I wanted specifically out of a career in law. Not to mention that now I have contacts in the legal field have already begun to network in the market/region in which I want to work.

As getemgoon also said, I gained a lot of real-world experience and feel much more comfortable with my ability to handle myself when it comes to loans and understanding the impact of law school on my finances. I'll probably do a lot of it on my own, and I feel as though I can better navigate the system.




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