Having an English degree can help you become a paralegal because it provides training in critical thinking, research, citation and writing. These are among the core competencies of legal professionals and also at the heart of English curriculum. Your education should also include computer skills, the basics of American government and legal research, but an English degree is a very good start.
Critical Thinking Skills
Paralegals use logic and reasoning to analyze key facts and evaluate research. English majors read critically, inquire creatively and assess context. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, for example, is a love story disturbingly narrated by a pedophile. Nabokov traps the reader, like Lolita herself, in the mind of a madman. It's brilliant, not unlike the work of a criminal defense attorney. An opponent’s brief may not be literature, but you must weigh its creative purpose.
A paralegal must prepare research plans and carry them out independently, using print and electronic sources. It is important to read, evaluate and analyze sources. English majors learn research methods and must also perform independent research. In fact, many English departments recommend English for those considering a career in law. However, the tools of legal research and the citation system are unique.
Legal professionals use either "The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation" published by the Harvard Law Review or the "ALWD Citation Manual," created by the Association of Legal Writing Directors to cite sources. These methods developed independently of the Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association systems and are designed to capture different information, like the subsequent history of cases. Nonetheless, an English major familiar with MLA or APA format may find it easy to learn a new system.
Paralegals draft interoffice memorandums, client correspondence and legal documents. They often adapt standardized forms or pleadings to fit a particular situation. Persuasive legal writing must use sources accurately and convey theory clearly. At its best, legal writing is lean, muscular and a joy to read. The rules of grammar are a minimum. English majors build effective written analyses and produce coherent essays. Writing well takes a lifetime of practice and English majors start early and practice often.
Anne Wallace teaches in Indiana’s community college system, including courses in business law, business writing and paralegal studies. She has practiced law, specializing in pension and health care plans and published in "Benefits Quarterly," "National Underwriter" and "Benefits and Compensation Management." She has a bachelor’s in English from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from Fordham Law School.