Paralegal: It still heads list

Lealie M. Perry always said she wanted a job in the legal fiel with a great deal of input.

But somehow, she hadn't envisioned a job in Washington typing information about fingerprints into a computer for the Federal Bureau of Investigations. "After a year I decided there was more to life than this," she says, laughing.


The then 20-year-old went back to school at the Villa Julie College in Stevenson to earn a bachelor's degree.

And these days, she's still in the legal field -- and she still has input. But as a paralegal at the Baltimore law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, she compiles documents, does research and helps in the decision-making process.


"What I like is the responsibility," says Ms. Perry, 26. "Attorneys come to me and ask a question -- a technical, administrative question about how things are done. You speak with these attorneys and they respect what you say."

Before attending college, Ms. Perry had toyed with the idea of going to law school, but the cost and the number of years of schooling necessary to become a lawyer were daunting.

"I had known about the [paralegal] field all along, she says. "I figured getting a four-year degree from Villa Julie and working in a law firm would give me a feel for what it's really like in the field of law."

And since paralegals are listed by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics as the fastest growing career field in the country between now and the year 2000, it was a wise career choice.

Networking and gaining contacts through internships and part-time jobs paid off in Ms. Perry's hunt for a full-time job after graduating in December 1989, she says. "I've always been a big supporter of working part-time while in school and I established contacts by working at another law firm. I also met other paralegals and could see what they did and where they worked."

Generally speaking, starting salaries for paralegals with two-year degrees range from the mid-teens to high teens and from about $15,000 to the high $20,000s for those with four-year degrees, she says. "It depends on the education, the years of experience and what city you're in." Salaries are usually higher in Washington than in Baltimore.

"There's a lot of room for growth." she says