By: Tom Goulding

The paralegal profession is experiencing substantial growth. With a projected increase of 14% until 2031, it’s safe to say that there is a renewed interest in getting involved with policy making and interpretation.

We sat down with Dawn DuRocher, ACP, CAS and Paralegal for the San Bernardino County Employees’ Retirement Association. As an expert in the paralegal field, she is also an instructor and Internship Coordinator for the Paralegal Studies program here at UCR University Extension. We discussed misconceptions around the field, what to expect entering the profession and her experiences teaching at UCR University Extension.

“Some of the most common misconceptions about being a paralegal are that they only perform legal research, draft pleadings and interview witnesses,” DuRocher says. “They don’t have 9-to-5 jobs.”

Someone in the role can experience a wide variety of responsibilities and this often results in wearing many different hats adjacent to legal work. She explains, “Some days I was the receptionist, secretary, mail clerk, or copy person. Great paralegals will do whatever it takes to get the job done, make their attorney look good, protect the client’s best interest, and help the law firm operate efficiently and effectively.”

A paralegal isn’t drawing too much from popular television like Law and Order or Better Call Saul. In fact, you’re not necessarily going to be wearing a blazer every day.

“Paralegals don’t always carry briefcases, wear suits, and go to court,” DuRocher continues. “It largely depends on the area of law and the law firm. Just because you’re a paralegal doesn’t mean you’ll be going to court with your attorney on a regular basis. In my 26 years of being a paralegal, I wore a suit, carried a briefcase, went to trial on only a few occasions and accompanied my attorney to client meetings on several occasions. Most of my days are spent in the office.”

As an instructor, DuRocher fielded a lot of questions from students. Upon graduating as a student and becoming a professional paralegal, a student can expect to:

  • Maintain a high standard of legal ethics
  • Never give legal advice
  • Communicate with exceptional standards and detail in verbal and written communication
  • Prepare to the highest degree for every duty
  • Organize and execute on attorney and firm needs
  • Operate in a team capacity with an attitude of professionalism

The paralegal field is highly regulated. A paralegal program that is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) is required by most employers but is also likely to offer internships — which provide valuable hands-on experience and insight. For instance, UCR University Extension’s Paralegal Studies program is the only ABA-approved program in the Inland Empire and connects students with internships.

As you continue your education both on the job and in class, your paralegal education will qualify you for more responsibilities and opportunities for growth and influence within the law. Volunteer experience within your local paralegal association and further opportunities to network will be priceless, DuRocher added.

“The way to a successful career is to produce quality work, always be professional and continue your education through seminars and certifications,” DuRocher says. “The bottom line is that your paralegal career is going to be whatever you make it - you’re in control. As with any job, being a paralegal has its good days and bad, but overall I’ve found it to be a very rewarding career choice.”