When you finish your sentence, you will want to reenter the workforce. You may want more than a typical entry level job. But, you may not know what options you have.
Contrary to what some may think, people with felony convictions actually can work in a law office. This is a great career choice. It offers a good salary, work benefits, and is a job that you can be proud of.
There are a few different jobs you can have in a law office. One common job is a paralegal. Below you can find information on paralegal careers.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is like a lawyer’s assistant. Specific duties will differ depending on the type of law your lawyer practices. Basic job duties of a paralegal include;
- Organizing documents for trial
- Contacting witnesses
- Communicating with other members of the team and trial
- Communicating with the court
- Performing research on case history and statutes
- Maintaining a library of legal information
Some types of law that you may encounter include the following:
- Intellectual property
- Personal injury
- Real estate
What are the Qualifications to Be a Paralegal?
Paralegals do not need membership in the American Bar Association, unlike lawyers. But, they may need to have a paralegal certification. This is not true in all states, though.
Many colleges and universities offer paralegal certificate studies. You can also look into receiving paralegal training online to receive a certificate. Programs must have certification through the American Bar Association, though.
Each law firm may have different qualifications for their paralegals. You will likely need to have at least an Associate’s (2 year) or Bachelor’s (4 year) degree.
You could earn these degrees in many fields. Some common degrees for paralegals include Legal Studies, Law, Criminal Justice, and Criminology. Law firms generally ask for a certain amount of credits in law courses.
Law offices like to see employment experience in law work. This could include a variety of previous jobs in a law firm. Jobs will qualify as long as they have provided you exposure to dealing with the legal system.
Paralegal Work and Felony Convictions
Not all states have licenses or certifications for paralegals. In the states that do, they may be hard to get with a felony record.
You may also need to have licensing as a notary public. This can also be hard to get with a felony record.
A notary public is a person who has the authorization to work with certain legal documents. The main role of this is verifying the signing of documents. You will be responsible for making sure that people sign documents as themselves. The technical term for this process is getting a document “notarized”.
There are no state laws that say that felons cannot work as paralegals or a notary public. But, there are some states in which felons cannot receive certificates or licenses. This includes paralegal and notary public certifications.
Most of these programs will complete criminal history background checks. So, do not lie on your application. This may result in automatic disqualification. It also may result in fraud charges.
Paralegal Work and Other Crimes
Laws vary from state to state on who can and cannot get certification. Other criminals records that could pose an issue include;
- Sex offender registry
- Child abuse registry
The specific nature of your crime may also play a factor. For example, law offices may be more cautious about someone with a violent versus other types. But, if you are dealing with financial types of law, financial offenses may be more important.
Becoming a Lawyer with a Felony Record
After you have worked as a paralegal, you may want to take your career a step further. Working as an attorney is an exciting job prospect for anyone. This may be especially true if someone has already had legal system involvement.
In some states, felons are able to be Bar certified. This is when the American Bar Association qualifies someone to practice law.
To become a lawyer, you will need to have a JD. A JD is also called a law degree. You need to have a Bachelor’s degree first to pursue a JD.
A lawyer’s main job duty in to represent their clients in court. Clients can be individual people, businesses, or governments.
Lawyers complete their duties in the same fashion as paralegals. They communicate with members of the legal team and prepare documents for trial. Lawyers, like paralegals, also may work in a variety of different types of law.
Background Checks for Legal Work
Law offices will perform background checks for both paralegal and attorney positions. Even if the law does not prohibit you, law offices may turn you away for having a criminal record.
As a business, they have the right to do this. It does not count as discrimination if they turn you away for having a criminal record.
Some background checks that law offices may run include;
- Criminal history
- Education history
- Sex offender registry
- Child abuse clearances
After the background checks, law offices may also ask you to complete a drug screening. These detect any substance in your system. So, this could include both illegal and prescription drugs.
If you have a valid prescription for a detected medication, then you should be fine. Make sure to let them know if this is the case. Also, make sure you are able to show proof of prescription.
Clearing a Criminal Record
So, what should you do if your state prohibits you from being a paralegal?
You have a few options for dealing with your criminal record if this is the case. Although they will not work for every state or law office, here are some of your options;
- Record sealing
- Record expungement
With these options, you will be able to say on applications that you do not have a criminal record.
This removes the record from being available to the public. It will not show on background checks. It also may help you to qualify for certificates, licenses, and jobs that you otherwise might not.
This is like record sealing, but takes it a step further. Expungement is when a crime is no longer on your public criminal record.
In the legal sense, the crime still exists. But, according to background checks and public knowledge, the crime never happened.
This is when the government “forgives” you for your crime. The crime stays on your public criminal record. But, a pardon shows that you are no longer a risk and that the government has forgiven you.
There are a few different types of certificates that you can receive. The exact type depends on your state and crime.
Some examples include Certificates of Rehabilitation and Certificates of Good Conduct. These show that you have completed any necessary follow up for your crime. This may be community service, employment, counseling, etc.
Another type is a Certificate of Actual Innocence. This shows that you should not have received the charge or criminal conviction. It shows that you are innocent of the crime.
To seek any of these options, you will first need to speak to your local court to find out if you are eligible. You also need to petition or file for these options through the court.
Not every crime is eligible. Certain violent and sexual offenses are often excluded. The local court will be able to provide you with more information on this.
In most cases, a certain amount of time (several years at least) must have passed since your conviction. You may also need to show proof that you are no longer a risk or show rehabilitation. Some evidence of this includes;
- Community service
- Therapy or other classes
- Letters of recommendation from probation/parole officers, work, etc.
Each of these options gives you the chance to bypass criminal record requirements. The final decision will always rest with the law office, though. Since they are businesses, they get to decide who they hire and for what reasons.
The above information has provided an easy way to understand what it takes to become a paralegal. Having a criminal record may make this more difficult. But, it is not an automatic disqualification.
Paralegal work is an excellent source of income and employment experience. You now know how to get into this type of work. You also now know how to clear your record if it gets in the way of becoming a paralegal or attorney.
Hopefully, this information sets you on your way to landing a job in the legal field.
Betts, R.D. (2018, October 16). Could an ex-convict become an attorney? I intended to find out. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/magazine/felon-attorney-crime-yale-law.html
Pardon information and instructions. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/pardon/pardon-information-and-instructions