South Piedmont Paralegal Technology student Samuel Mehlrose is aware of the misconceptions about his intended career field — and he’s happy to address them head on.
He’s heard it all since enrolling in the Paralegal Technology program: Paralegals are essentially secretaries. They don’t know anything about the law. They don’t get to help with legal cases.
“None of these are accurate statements about paralegals,” Mehlrose said. “People don’t understand what paralegals actually do. For me, it’s an exciting and challenging career path that I’m excited about entering.”
Mehlrose graduated from Sun Valley High School and enrolled at South Piedmont intending to eventually transfer to a four-year university. When he learned about the Paralegal Technology program, however, he decided to pursue the program and instead go straight to the workforce. Being a paralegal aligns perfectly with his interests and personality.
“I was in the ROTC in high school. Those were the best years of my life. Looking back, I can see that’s because I have a deep respect for order. I also like to know how everything works, but I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” he said.
“Studying Paralegal Technology gives me that strong connection to the law, but I’ll be behind the scenes, working with the attorneys.”
The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as: A person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work.
What this means, said South Piedmont Paralegal Technology Program Lead DeAnne Coan, is that paralegals not only possess a deep understanding of the law, they perform essential functions that keep individual legal cases and entire law practices running smoothly.
“On any given day, paralegals are studying the law, speaking with clients, researching cases, doing legal writing, drafting documents,” Coan said.
“This is a profession, and paralegals are very well paid. We have a lot of work to do to begin changing the perception of paralegals and their vital work in our legal system.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median pay for paralegals in 2022 was $59,200 annually.
As Mehlrose progresses in his program and learns more about his future career, he is increasingly excited to be entering the paralegal profession.
“Paralegals are very hardworking people. They’re in the background, keeping everything working smoothly,” he said.
Mehlrose is currently learning how to research legal cases and write legal memoranda.
“It is exhilarating when you find exactly the cases you need to put a current case in context. You have to research prior cases to explain how the legal precedents would apply to the current case. Being able to put all that into a memo that flows together is really exciting,” he said.
Being a paralegal also comes with other advantages, Mehlrose said. Paralegals generally work a predictable, eight-hour day, unlike attorneys who often have to put in a certain number of billable hours each week. Also, law school is extremely expensive. Mehlrose will enter the legal field without the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.
“I’ll be set up for a great life,” he said.
South Piedmont’s Paralegal Technology program offers degree, certificate, and diploma options. Learn more at spcc.edu/paralegal.