Do YOU have what it takes to be a PARALEGAL?


What is a Paralegal?

The terms Paralegal and Legal Assistant are used interchangeably, though in the Central Illinois region Paralegal is the more commonly used term. A Paralegal is essentially a lawyer’s assistant. A Paralegal may be qualified by education, training, or work experience for employment by a lawyer, law office, corporation, government agency, or other entity, to perform specifically delegated substantive legal work under the supervision of a Lawyer. We follow the American Bar Association definition of a Paralegal:

A legal assistant or paralegal is 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 for which a lawyer is responsible. -American Bar Association

In most instances, Paralegals work for Lawyers and assist in the delivery of legal services. A Paralegal may not provide direct legal services or legal advice to another person or entity. A Paralegal may very well be an integral part, if not the catalyst for the legal advice or service. In fact, many of our graduates working in law firms have as much if not more direct contact with clients as the Lawyer. But the Lawyer, the person who has earned the law license and the duty under the law to provide legal advice or service, must review, approve and deliver the legal advice or legal service.

The analogy most of us are familiar with is by way of a visit to our family Doctor. When is the last time you went to your Doctor and saw her for more than 5 minutes at the end of the visit? You know the drill. First, you check in at the reception desk and fill out the same old forms. Eventually, you are ushered into an examination room. Most likely a Nurse Practioner or Physician’s Assistant enters the room. It is this person who does all the work, taking your vitals, your history, asking you questions before examining you. It is this person who makes notes in the chart, conducts or requests lab tests and does the majority of the work before telling you the Doctor will be in shortly. After what seems like forever, the Doctor knocks on the door and enters. She speaks with you briefly, reviews the Nurse Practitioner or Physician’s Assistant notes and verifies the information. The Doctor signs off on any findings, treatment, maybe a prescription and you are directed to the billing desk to confirm payment and set your next appointment. The Doctor reviews and signs off on the work of the Nurse Practitioner or Physician’s Assistant because the Doctor holds the Medical license and it is her duty to review, approve and provide the medical advice or service. The Lawyer must review and approve the work of a Paralegal because the Lawyer holds the Law license and it is her duty to review, approve and dictate the legal advice or service.

There are some exceptions in which a person may find themselves employed and using their Paralegal knowledge and skills to fill positions in which they do not work directly for a Lawyer. These positions vary and most often are found in human resources, insurance claims, banking, real estate, social service agencies, government, corporate and medical offices. The law transcends and regulates every industry and occupation so there is typically a need in most organizations for people who have knowledge of the law and the ability to perform functions that their employer must complete in order to be in compliance with the law. So these individuals use the education and training received in our programs on a daily basis but they do not work directly for a Lawyer and their position isn’t titled “Paralegal”.

Interesting fact: Some of the largest law firms and corporate law offices in the region report a change in their business model that includes hiring more Paralegals than Lawyers into the near future. This coincides with other projections, for instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, available Paralegal positions are expected to grow at a rate of 15% - much faster than average growth - over the next 10 years. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

How do you know if this is the career for you?

Society places so much pressure on us to choose a career. Do we really know the exact career path or position we want to be in for the rest of our working lives? And even if we do, will that position be there for 5,10, 25 years? In our experience, people who have an interest in the law and a willingness to help others through the knowledge and skills they earn in the law typically find a wide range of satisfying career options. It is these two primary factors, an interest in the law and a desire to help other people navigate the law that really determines if this is a career path for you.

Through our Post Degree Certificate, we often see people who have taken different career paths, done all sorts of things in life to earn a living and then end up in our program because they have an interest in working with the law. These are people who have worked in every position and career field you can imagine. You may find an EMT, Primary School Teacher, Police Detective, Accountant, Nurse, possibly a Ph.D. holding University Abnormal Psychology Professor sitting next to you in class. The common denominator, these individuals had a desire to work with the Law. For some, it may have been an interest they ignored for decades. For others, it may be an interest developed over time. And for some, it may be an interest developed through their own experiences interacting with a Paralegal. But again, the two primary elements we see in our graduates are an interest in the law and a desire to help other people navigate or be helped by the law and the legal system.

Interesting Fact: Several ICC Paralegal graduates have taken their interest in the law a step further. These graduates have gone on to and completed law school. Most of these individuals worked as Paralegals while in law school. Some of these Paralegals received tuition assistance while in law school and a guaranteed job as a Lawyer with their employer upon graduation. These graduates credit their Paralegal education at ICC as being a key component to their success in law school and to our knowledge, all of these individuals passed the bar exam the first time!

How much $ do Paralegals earn?

The median annual salary for the current year is available on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website linked above. Typically that median salary is much higher than the median salary for all occupations. It varies depending on the size and location of the employer as well as the benefits available. We caution our students to avoid making assumptions. Some small employers pay as well as large ones. So you must explore and investigate every position much differently than you probably experienced in other career fields. Throughout the course of our program, we provide information relevant to navigating these concerns and the employment process. But we caution students, this is a profession, not a job. A profession is a paid occupation, one that requires training and formal qualifications and a career-long commitment to maintaining and updating knowledge and skills.

Because this is a profession, new Paralegals encounter the same experiences as new Lawyers in those early years after graduation. A recent Paralegal graduate may work for two or three different law firms or in various practice areas before finding his niche in the law or the employer with whom he feels comfortable. As with the new Lawyer, the salary expectations take a back seat to job satisfaction. As the Paralegal finds professional success in an area of law he excels in or with an employer that suits him best, the already higher than average salary expectations continue to climb.

So the short answer to this question: Paralegals earn much better than average compensation. Focus on developing experience as a Professional in the area of law or with the employer that best supports you personally and compensation will continue to much better than average.

Why should I choose ICC for my Paralegal Education?

ICC offers the only American Bar Association Approved Post-Degree Certificate in this region. We offer the highest quality Associates degree available in the region and we have the oldest most established Paralegal Programs in all of Central Illinois. Tuition at institutions offering similar programs is as much as 4 to 5 time more expensive. ICC has agreements in place to allow in-district tuition rates for students living in all other surrounding community college districts (Blackhawk, Carl Sandburg, Heartland, Illinois Valley, and Spoon River). You can take courses offered at your home college there and our program courses at ICC and our long-standing relationship with those schools has led to a convenient opportunity for students from those districts who go back to Intern and then work as Paralegals in those areas. Finally, you can begin our program at any time of the year, Fall, Spring or Summer semester. Our course schedule includes a combination of online, hybrid and traditional classes scheduled in a way that supports the needs of our students.

If you have any questions about Paralegals, our Paralegal program or anything related to Paralegals, please do not hesitate to contact:
Program Director Michelle Weghorst at 309-690-7691 or send an e-mail to: michelle.weghorst@icc.edu or

Professor Tom Higgins at 309-690-7693 or thomas.higgins@icc.edu