3 Tips for Legal Research

Paralegals are to attorneys what nurses are to doctors; basically, attorneys and doctors would have a very difficult time doing their jobs without the support paralegals and nurses provide!

One of the ways paralegals support attorneys is by doing legal research. Legal research is the important foundational work to building strong legal cases for clients, and can often be time-consuming and costly, depending on a number of factors. But there are plenty of tips and tricks to becoming an efficient and effective legal researcher!

WHAT IS LEGAL RESEARCH?

Before delving into the tips and tricks, it’s important to understand why good legal research is so important. Cornell Law says, the purpose of legal research is to find ‘authority’ that will aid in finding a solution to a legal problem.” This authority can come in the form of “primary authorities,” which are the rules of law, and “secondary authorities,” which are the commentaries on the laws. Being able to support a client’s case with superior legal authorities can often make or break a case.

While pursuing a degree or certification in paralegal studies, you will have at least one course in legal research. In a legal research course, you will learn the necessary research tools and techniques to find actual laws, along with various secondary materials that help in the research process. Law firms and other legal organizations often use online databases like LexisNexis and WestLaw to help in the research process. However, these subscription databases can be costly, especially if you’re not well-acquainted with a particular area of law.

3 TIPS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR LEGAL RESEARCH:

Develop a list of keywords, phrases, and terms. This is especially helpful if you are researching a topic you are unfamiliar with. Write these down, and narrow your list as you go and become more acquainted with the law at hand.

Use Google Scholar before legal databases. Legal databases, like the ones mentioned above, often charge on the number of searches and documents clicked, depending on your subscription plan. Start with Google Scholar and other free resources to narrow down what you are looking for before using a paid legal database.

Contact a representative/librarian for the paid legal database you subscribe to. Many of these databases provide help via legal librarians or representatives who can help you with your search – for no extra fees! Give them a call and ask for help narrowing down your topic and resources. They can help you find the exact documents you need while being more time and cost efficient.

Your legal research professor will teach you the many of the ins and outs of research techniques, resources, and materials, but they are constricted by limited class time, so don’t be afraid to venture out on your own and figure out better research methods. One of the keys to being an indispensable paralegal is feeling comfortable figuring things out on your own and being resourceful; these traits will serve you well in every facet of your legal career.

If you’re interested in pursuing a paralegal degree or certification, visit www.theparalegalinstitute.edu today! With over 50 years of experience in training paralegals, you can expect an excellent education that will lead to excellent employment options.  

Interview with Dr. Daniel Marco, Professor at The Paralegal Institute

When starting a new class, meeting the professor can be daunting—you know very little about the instructor, their teaching style, or what their class will be like. If this is true for brick-and-mortar colleges, it can be doubly so for online classes! But there are real people behind the computer screen who are rooting for you to succeed as a student and, eventually, as a professional in your chosen field.

To mitigate some of the apprehension of not knowing your instructors, we did a short interview with one of our paralegal professors. Dr. Daniel Marco is an attorney, and when he is not running his law practice, he is sharing his passion for the law with our paralegal program students. By his own words his second love is teaching, so spoiler alert: He definitely wants you to succeed! His answers will give you insight into what he’s like as an instructor, and a little bit of what you can expect as a student at The Paralegal Institute.

  1. Why did you decide to become an online instructor?

I am an attorney by trade and the practice of law is my calling in life. But I do have a second love and that is teaching. I have a passion for helping facilitating a student’s learning process. In fact, I have lectured at a number of law schools in the US and even at a law school in and a college in China! But the demands of a law practice made anything other than an occasional lecture impossible. About nine years ago I discovered the online education environment and it is an environment that quickly proved perfect for me. It allows me to pick and choose when to work on my practice and when to work on grading assignments and finals. It is just the perfect compromise for me. This also helps me be more empathetic for the time struggles of my students, most of whom work full-time.

  1. What is the best part of being an online instructor for The Paralegal Institute?

The best part of instructing at the Institute is the students. I have many hard-working, bright, and motivated students who are looking for a slight change in the direction of their career. I enjoy their enthusiasm and their no-nonsense approach to the courses. Also, the administrative staff is very helpful. I am not as computer savvy as I once was, computers simply accelerated by me, but the staff is always gentle and patient with me and with my students, they answer my questions and serve the students needs.

  1. Do you have any advice for students who are looking to excel in online classes?

Yes, I do. It’s very simple. Stop. Take a deep breath and relax. Nothing is going to register if you are tense. Always remember what class you are in. What book you are reading. What chapter of the book. And what subsection of that chapter. I always made sure to follow this little meditative process from time to time while studying in law school and for the three Bar Exams I took and passed on the first try each! For example, I might stop every few pages and remind myself that  I am reading the Torts book. I am in the chapter on negligence. I am reading the section on res ipsa loquitur. That is all I have to learn here. Just taking a moment to recall where you are and what you are supposed to be learning will cut back on the noise and, in fact, will streamline your learning process. That is my advice. Since you do not have other students to kick things around with you have to keep tabs on your own focus!

  1. Do you have any advice for people interested in starting a career in the legal field?

Learn to love the law. Learn to explore the grey areas that pop up in every issue. Put aside your judgments of people and the way they act, in the workplace and as your clients, and evaluate everything, according to the law but not until you have thoroughly researched the issue before you. Do not take anything personally. Do not personally attack anyone. If you can do those things, you can’t help but have a successful career as a paralegal and you may want to move on to law school.

While this interview is but a snippet of the wisdom and stories Dr. Marco could share with us about his compelling life and career, we thank him for taking the time to share these answers, and hope they are encouraging to all of our students past, present, and future! It’s easy to say our instructors are invested in your learning, but Dr. Marco’s interview helps illustrate that we truly mean it.

You can check out Dr. Marco’s faculty bio here to learn more about him, and you can visit us at www.theparalegalinstitute.edu to learn more about our paralegal programs!

Life at Brighton: An Interview with Student Services Coordinator, Military Spouse, and Brighton Student Kaitlin Gerth

 

Choosing to go back to school is a big decision, and choosing which school to attend can be an even bigger one. For military spouses, these choices can be compounded by the uncertainty of your location. Distance education is a great solution to these logistical problems, but you might be nervous over the “distance” part!

That’s why we’re giving you an inside look at what it’s like to be a military spouse, a Brighton student, AND a Brighton employee! Our wonderful Student Services Coordinator, Kaitlin Gerth, answered a few questions about her experiences. Spoiler alert: They might just convince you to give distance learning a try! (If you haven’t already, that is.)

Flexibility is Key

Kaitlin is currently enrolled in our Paralegal Studies program, on top of having a Bachelor’s in Sociology and a Master’s in Education. Her undergraduate degree was entirely brick-and-mortar, which she describes as being good… until she was working two jobs to pay for tuition. She says, “it made it really hard to get to class on time⎯to work on time. So when I went to grad school, I was able to do a lot of it online, and knew if I ever went back to school, I’d do it online.”

When asked about the best part of being a student at Brighton, she says it’s the flexibility: “By working here, I decided to pursue my Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies, and it’s been really helpful to do the work on my time frame instead of someone else’s set schedule.”

Flexibility is a common theme in what she enjoys most about working and studying at Brighton. The best part of working at Brighton is the flexibility and “customer service” aspect of working with the students, she says. Of course, she also enjoys the people she works with and appreciates how her bosses help maintain the flexibility.

Distance Learning as a Military Spouse

Continuing with the flexibility motif, she explains that, as a military spouse, the best part of distance learning is the freedom and flexibility. In her own words:

“…to know that, no matter where we may end up, I can ask for a week or two off for a transition period, then pick back up where I left off. I don’t have to transfer schools and worry about 10,000 pages of paperwork to transfer any credits and whatnot. While traditional programs are super great and really beneficial for students who know they’ll be in the same place for multiple years, military members/spouses get uprooted every 2 years or so, less if they draw short straws, so it’s important to have some level of continuity in their lives, which distance learning definitely provides. I actually have a student that is deploying and he’s able to work on his program in his spare time overseas. Talk about flexibility!”

Brighton’s course freedom has allowed her to pursue her Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies without the fear of having to pick up and start over somewhere else. Paralegal Studies is one of our most popular programs, and it has allowed Kaitlin to follow her legal dreams. She says that once she found out the overwhelmingly rigorous process to get into law school, she put a law career on the back burner⎯but the paralegal program has allowed her to chase her childhood dreams, albeit in a different way than she imagined!

Kaitlin’s Top Tips for Exceeding at Online Learning

If you’ve never taken online classes before, you might not know the best ways to stay on track. Thankfully, as a student services coordinator and a distance learning student herself, Kaitlin has some great tips for excelling at distance education. Her top tip? Calendars.

CALENDARS! Oh my gosh, and planners!! I never really paid attention to planners when I was in high school, but I learned VERY quickly in college how beneficial they are. They even became a Christmas tradition in my family–my mom would always get me a really nice planner for the following year. By the end of the year, it was barely hanging on because I live by it, and still do. Mom won’t buy them for me anymore, but as an “adult” (I still don’t believe that), I have to buy my own. I also have multiple calendars around the house, and my husband thinks I’m insane. But, I’m never late on anything. Also, make lists–keep yourself accountable. I have a whiteboard that, daily, I write down everything I need to do that day, and things that, if I have time, I can get to. I prioritize by color and it helps motivate me to keep on task because I also have mild OCD, so going out of order also really bothers me. But, I’m really efficient because of this so it’s weird at first… but once you’re in the groove, it’s like riding a bike!”

If you’re interested in pursuing a degree or certification at Brighton, we hope Kaitlin’s experiences have shown you what a great option it is for those needing flexibility in their lives! For more information, feel free to contact us at www.brightoncollege.edu, or give us a call at 800-354-1254.

The Paralegal Industry and Its Job Outlook

Though often overlooked, paralegals are an integral part of all legal organizations—and non-legal organizations have taken notice. While traditional employment within the legal industry continues to grow, non-traditional work options in various fields are expanding job opportunities for current (and potential!) paralegals and legal assistants.

INDUSTRY OUTLOOK

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of paralegals and legal assistants will grow around fifteen percent from 2016 to 2026, which is more than the average of all other occupations (as seen in the graph below). As law firms and other businesses strive for more efficiency and less cost for clients, they are turning to paralegals to help them achieve this goal.

Because of these market demands, paralegals and legal assistants are not only taking the place of entry-level lawyers, they are also taking on hybrid roles, where legal secretary duties are combined with paralegal responsibilities. As a result, the need for paralegals with technological and database skills has increased.

While employers typically prefer employees with an associate degree in Paralegal Studies, job-seekers with tech proficiency and a paralegal certification will likely find themselves in the enviable position of being quite hireable in today’s tech-drive workforce.

NON-TRADITIONAL JOB OPPORTUNITIES

Law firms and government agencies are the most common employers of paralegals, but businesses outside the legal industry are increasingly switching to in-house and contracted legal counsel. Many companies in finance, tech, and healthcare are either hiring or contracting paralegals as consultants to fulfill their basic legal needs in compliance and regulatory areas. Amazon is one such tech company that retains an in-house legal team in their offices all over the world and is constantly hiring for paralegal and other related positions, which you can find by searching on Amazon’s job site.

The healthcare industry, with its complicated regulatory and compliance needs, often seeks in-house legal help; health insurance companies, like Aetna, also hire in-house legal aides. Since this sector often requires more specialized knowledge, employees with medical backgrounds are highly sought after, such as Legal Nurse Consultants and Nurse Paralegals.

Large finance companies like J.P. Morgan Chase also hire paralegals to assist their in-house attorneys all over the United States. A quick search for jobs with J.P. Morgan Chase reveals a need for paralegals in cities across the country.

And, of course, in the 21st century’s pervasive gig economy, freelance paralegals are able to make a comfortable living on flexible terms, allowing them to raise families and attend to other needs they might have. However, it is advisable to have a few years of experience before becoming a paralegal freelancer.

PARALEGAL SALARY

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2017 the median wage for paralegals was $50,410, with the bottom ten percent making less than $31,130 and the top ten percent making over $81,180. Your location, work experience, industry, and specialized knowledge will, of course, contribute to how much you earn, with paralegals in the utilities and healthcare industries making more than those in the retail or advertising sectors.

The paralegal occupation, overall, is an excellent career choice that does not require a four-year (or more) degree with crippling student debt. With a bright industry outlook and great salary potential, those interested in the legal field but not in the law school sticker price should consider enrolling in a paralegal program.

The Paralegal Institute at Brighton College offers an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies as well as a Paralegal Certificate Program. The Paralegal Institute offers all courses online, along with affordable tuition and an emphasis on employability after graduation. For more information, please check out our website—we look forward to hearing from you!

Choices, Decisions, and Consequences

Every choice in life we make has a consequence, either a good one or a not-so-good one. Some of those “not-so-good” ones come with the worst words to say when you look back on your life: “What If?

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I have made it my life’s mission to not have any regrets, or any What If’s in life, even though I haven’t always had good consequences of my actions. I have learned to take them in stride and use them for my future. An example of this has been my education. My choice to go to a private university in Kentucky for my undergrad had a not-so-good consequence of extreme student loan debt. My choice to move home to Illinois for grad school had a good consequence of saving money and having the support of my parents readily at hand.

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Until recently, I was considered a “traditional” student–I went to college immediately after high school, grad school immediately after that. But upon graduation with my Master’s, I had some choices to make. Do I want to continue on and get a PhD? Or do I want to start looking for a job? I chose to start working, because from the time I started Kindergarten until the day I finished my Master’s, I had been in school for 19.5 consecutive years, with only summers off (until grad school). That’s a long time to go through school, and my best friend went on to get her PhD immediately after her Master’s, so it’s amazing she hasn’t burned out yet. That’s the issue with a lot of “traditional” students these days.

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When I was little, I was obsessed with Law and Order: SVU and that show gave me the desire to be a lawyer and help people. Going through junior high and high school, I didn’t get the most stellar grades, but I was a solid A-/B+ student. In college, I started struggling a lot with my grades while working, taking an insane amount of credit hours, and being a music minor [which required a certain amount of practice hours per week], and it took me a year or so to learn time management skills, but by that point, the damage was pretty much done. However, better late than never on those skills (wait for it…). It was during my junior year of college when I realized I would never be able to get into law school. My grades were nowhere near good enough, and I’m such a horrible test taker, always have been, so I knew I couldn’t get a high enough score on the LSAT to make up for my GPA. So I had to start looking at other options.

Again, the choices I made gave me a fair amount of “not-so-good” consequences. Upon looking at my options with my major, I chose to pursue a career in Sport Psychology. In that field, I could still help people. I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Education with a specialty of Kinesiology, but I was told too late I needed a PhD. On top of that, I kind of felt like I had wasted a ton of money in student loans and I still wouldn’t be a lawyer.

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I moved to Arizona a month after getting married. We made 1 huge life choice, why not overwhelm ourselves by adding in more big decisions! We were here for about a year when I got the job with Brighton. I found, as I was going through the catalog, that they offer an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies! I could at least receive the training to kind of be a lawyer. But the downside of that? I went back to school (even though it’s online) at the age of 29. While we have students across all ages, a common theme is “I’ve been out of school for a while so I’m worried about getting back into the swing of things.” I know exactly how the students feel now, because wow, even though it’s only been a little less than 5 years since graduating with my Master’s, it’s hard to get back into the groove of studying and homework!

It’s nice that I can do it when I have time to, as opposed to having to work around a class time with a brick-and-mortar school that has set meeting times, exam dates, and less flexibility in general. What I’ve found amazing with being a non-traditional student is the knowledge I’ve gained over the years and the ability to apply it when I never thought I’d need to. Our students, like me, have {sometimes} multiple degrees that have given them a set of skills and knowledge, plus their real world experiences. In addition, our instructors are fantastic and understand that we are working individuals, with children/families and other responsibilities and sometimes we even like to sleep. So they’re flexible on submission dates and are more than happy to provide assistance as much as they can.

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While you can take online classes with us at your own pace, you are subject to a specific time frame. For instance, our Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies program has a maximum time frame of 3 years, even though if you went to a community college, you could finish it in 2. But then you have to take into account the fact that we are flexible, you don’t have to go to an actual class, you can do your homework and quizzes in yoga pants (which also happens to be how I dressed my entire senior year of college), and if something happens or you get sick or have to take a break, we offer a lot of options to help out. We help people send out resumes to get jobs. That’s not something a lot of colleges, especially online colleges, do on a regular basis.

So looking back on my life, have I made some decisions that didn’t always turn out so great for me? Absolutely. But those experiences made me the woman I am today, the hard worker I am today, and the student I am today. Without those decisions, I might never have found Brighton, and I might never have been able to get as close as possible to my dream without actually going to law school, all while helping people at the same time. While the road of life is bumpy and unpaved, the journey is worth the ride.

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