Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Dear ATL,

I just received my A.A. in Paralegal Studies. Will this be useful at all? How do attorneys view paralegals? I don’t need an attorney to like me. I just need one to pay me.

— Wrong Kind of Associate

Dear Wrong Kind of Associate,

I’m going to be honest here and say that I had to Google “A.A. degree.” I thought it might be it something called an “Associates Degree,” which I’ve seen advertised on the subway, but I wasn’t sure because I’ve never seen that abbreviation in real life and wanted to be absolutely certain about it before I tore you a new one….

Contrary to popular belief, you do not become any sort of “associate” by virtue of obtaining an Associate of Arts degree. It’s one of those misnomers that are maliciously designed to trick people, like calling a computer a netbook when it actually doesn’t have built-in internet. And just as you have to pay separately for a data plan, you’ll need to pay separately for a bachelor’s and a J.D if you want to be a law firm associate. If you want to be a paralegal, you’ll need add at least a Bachelor’s to your cart. But an A.A. in Paralegal Studies will come in handy when researching lawyers who can help you sue the disgraceful institution that took your money and awarded you a useless piece of paper.

If you do eventually become a career paralegal, you’ll find yourself at the low end of law firm pecking order, somewhere above inter-office mail people but below the visiting Hong Kong tailor. Paralegals are mostly drifters who are doing time before law school or saving money to do something better (which is fine), but when they discover that you actually went to school for this s**t, you’ll be shunned by your own people. And when the attorneys find out… I mean, have you seenthe ATL comment boards? You may want to pre-order some self-help tapes.

But even if you can’t leverage your degree to get a law firm job, I imagine that your paralegal skills will serve you well in the job market. Plenty of companies are looking for candidates with strong Gchatting backgrounds and experience playing Minesweeper.

I hope this helps.

Your friend,

Marin

I really wish you had asked this question before you went to school to be a paralegal. Then again, I wish most people would ask whether or not their degree will be useful before they acquire said degree. But, hey, I’m just the old guy who warns people about evil mountains.

That’s in the past. You’re here now with your useless piece of paper; what are you going to do about it?

First of all, I think you need to minimize this “credential” on your résumé. Don’t put it in the “education” section like you expect potential employers to be too stupid to know the difference between your degree and a real one. Instead, put it in the “other interests” sections. That’s where I put my Kaplan LSAT instructor stuff; I wouldn’t dare put it under “work experience,” but it’s in the “interests” section, on the off chance somebody cares and wants to talk about it in an interview.

Basically, you don’t want it to look like you were ever so addled as to think this degree would be important to an employer; rather, you want to make it look like you went to the school for your own personal edification and interest. The impression you want to leave is: “Oh, this guy keeps bees, climbed Mt. Fuji, and has a paralegal degree — neato.”

Continue that minimization strategy should anybody ever bring it up in an interview. Again, never let on that you at one point thought this thing would be helpful towards finding employment. Instead, you need to come up with a song and dance about how you had money burning a hole in your pocket, hate charity, and wanted to find out if being a paralegal would be a good way to kill some time before making your next amazing life decision.

If you play it right, you just might be able to overcome this black mark on your résumé.

But this advice is not free. If you do somehow manage to get a job, you are duty-bound to prevent at least one other person from making the same mistakes you have made. You must find at least one other person who is thinking of getting this useless paralegal degree and change his or her mind. You have to give back, or else you would have learned nothing from your silly decision to attain a degree nobody cares about.

Of course, saving somebody from paying good money to get useless education is harder than you think.

— Secretary of Miseducation

UPDATE (6/16/11): Pls Hndle Thx is one of ATL’s more tongue-in-cheek features. Here is a more serious discussion of career opportunities for paralegals — and how they can vary depending on a candidate’s educational background.

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Earlier: Prior editions of Pls Hndle Thx


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