Debbie Burton has found her calling. After spending 11 years in the Air Force as a commander’s assistant and 20 years living in the woods of Alaska, Burton and her husband realized she needed a career to call her own, especially if she was ever left alone.
Realizing she had a mind for “picking things apart,” Burton’s husband said the legal field was a good place for her.
Three years later, Burton is now a paralegal with U-Haul and on her way to finishing a law degree through an online program with a California university.
Burton received her training through Phoenix’s Everest College. Though for most the program only takes 18 months, Burton decided to take each summer off to return to their refuge in Alaska.
Once she completed her schooling, she worked for Everest in the career services department. Part of her job was to keep a career board for graduating students in each training program. That was how she found out about the job at U-Haul. She has been employed in the legal department there since July.
“Personally, this is one of the best things I could have done,” she said. “This is the perfect job for me. I like to pick things apart. I like to research things.”
As a paralegal, Burton is often researching items about people and situations to try to find resolutions. A lot of the research is done online.
“We just find out what is the best avenue to resolve things,” she said.
She hadn’t been in school for 30 years returning to the classroom was a bit “frightening,” she said.
Training as a paralegal includes classes in torts, family law, business law, Constitutional law and criminal law. Burton was also in classes to upgrade her writing and computer skills.
Paralegals research the facts of a case and offer information to attorneys preparing for hearings, closings and meetings.
She said the legal field is a good place for “someone who doesn’t mind having more than one boss and someone who enjoys researching and someone who enjoys a lot of individual work.”
“The lawyers will tell us what needs to be done and we pretty much have free reign now to get the information they’re looking for,” she said. “You have to be open-minded and imaginative.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, 7 out of 10 paralegals work in law firms, while others work in government and corporations.
Some of Burton’s classmates went to work for the state. Some are at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
There are several certifications available for legal assistants, according to the National Association of Legal Assistants Web site, www.nals.com.
Jobs in the field are expected to grow “much faster than average” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The latest median annual earnings report, from May 2004, states that full-time wage and salary paralegals and legal assistants earned $39,130.