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Paralegal Career 101: Choosing Your Law Specialty

Kristina Zelisko
by Kristina Zelisko

The legal profession is a vast field, filled with possibilities for choosing a specialty uniquely suited to your interests. As a paralegal, you could work in numerous settings, including government offices, law firms, and corporate legal departments. While these are some of the most common places to find a paralegal, there are many other types of organizations which employ these professionals, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. How you craft your career is up to you. 
Depending on where you work, you might specialize in litigation, corporate law, intellectual property, immigration, or even real estate. Other common fields for paralegals include bankruptcy, family law, or personal injury. At times, the BLS notes, the law is a complex matter, and your skill set could become quite specific, based on the work your employer needs you to perform. To gain the special skills you require for a specialty, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) suggests that students attend paralegal schools to learn more and seek on-the-job training.
What’s right for you?
Devoting yourself to the right specialty might not be as simple a choice as deciding you wanted to be a paralegal in the first place. Some people base their choices on finding a specialty that matches their interests and personality. Others might want to fit in with the “hot” trends and skills in demand at the time. 
Think about your passions. Is there a certain cause or population you would like to serve? A 2005 article in Paralegal Today features paralegals serving in unique specialties. One woman seized an opportunity to work with a legal services organization that aids inmates in North Carolina. Of her job, Sharon Robertson said in the article, “Prisoner advocates, such as myself, provide the checks and balances that are critical to our justice system.” She said she enjoyed changing her career from a more traditional legal setting and had “not looked back since.”
If you’re the type who wants to find a job with an in-demand specialty, stay abreast of current news and trends in the legal profession. The role of the paralegal is growing and evolving with legal needs around the globe. “Every market is different but there are national trends,” Robert Half Legal Executive Director Charles Volkert said in a 2009 article published in Paralegal Today. The BLS predicts that demand for paralegals with specific knowledge about environmental law, elder issues, healthcare, and international law will expand in the future. 
Technological innovation has also spurred a tremendous need for paralegals in e-discovery and litigation support. Recent global financial troubles have also prompted the creation of a specialty called financial crisis law, and paralegals may find growing responsibilities in that arena. 
Paralegals might even change specialties throughout their careers. Some law firms allow for this possibility and provide training for those interested in making a transition. Continue to monitor the evolution of the profession and your career to create the future you want. 
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Kristina Zelisko is an Account Coordinator at Location3 Media and works in affiliation with Westwood College, which offers an online paralegal program. She has a BSBA from the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business. 
Sources:

http://www.legalassistanttoday.com/issue_archive/features/feature1_jf09.htm

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