Ever dream of working with a law firm or in a courtroom? Becoming a paralegal is a fantastic alternative if you don’t want to grind through law school. If you have an interest in law, becoming a certified paralegal may be the perfect career path for you.
What Is a Paralegal?
Paralegals are assistants to various law firm employees. They assist with many different duties around their workplace, utilizing many valuable hard and soft skills to accomplish their work.
Certified paralegals work behind the scenes to keep law firms, government agencies, and corporations running smoothly.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
It’s difficult to pin down what a paralegal does because a certified paralegal does nearly everything. They directly support lawyers with legal matters. This can range from administrative duties and data entry to drafting legal documents and aiding lawyers in research. They also join attorneys in the courtroom and diligently pore over case files.
Certified paralegals make sure the system runs as it should through their extensive training through certification programs and internships. Paralegals file and draft up paperwork, perform other crucial clerical duties, and generally keep everything in line.
Essential Paralegal Skills
Knowledgeable in Areas of Law
Being knowledgeable in whatever law you are studying is a must. You need to be an absolute expert in your field if you hope to succeed at a law firm or government agency.
Attention to Detail
Since certified paralegals handle copious amounts of documents, the ideal candidate needs to be organized, detailed, and talented. Paralegals will engage in whatever the attorney or law firm needs them to do. This can vary from writing extensive research reports, drafting legal material, and directly assisting an attorney with a court case.
Paralegal Salaries and Job Outlook
Depending on what area of law you decide upon, paralegal salaries can vary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for paralegals and legal assistants is $51,740 per year or $24.87 per hour.
Paralegal jobs are increasing at an alarming rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 40,000 paralegal jobs will emerge over the next decade, with a 12 percent overall increase. This rate is much faster than the growth of other occupations.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?
Based on your educational plan, it could take anywhere from two to four years. Since most businesses require paralegals to have an associate or Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies, you will need to complete your education. At the end of your degree program, you must then take a paralegal certificate exam to enter the profession.
How to Become a Paralegal
Let’s pin down what the exact requirements for becoming a certified paralegal are and how you go about getting them.
Step 1: Get Your Degree in Paralegal Studies
Degree programs and certificate programs vary in length, content, and quality. You need to look for a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
These different ABA-accredited programs are usually very welcoming to everyone, no matter their educational background. Future certified paralegals can find various applicable programs at community colleges, four-year colleges, and business schools.
These various programs are at least 18 credit hours worth of classes. They should ideally be classes about ethics, the American legal system, legal research, and of course, the paralegal profession.
Step 2: Get Some Work Experience
Aside from earning a bachelor’s degree or certificate, this may be the most essential step to enter the paralegal profession.
Law firms and other businesses don’t usually hire paralegals without experience. Theoretically, you could wait around and wait for someone to take a chance on you, but it just isn’t realistic. The best way to go about getting your foot in the door is through internships.
Internships allow you to immerse yourself in legal departments and give you valuable paralegal work experience. This introduction to the world of paralegal jobs will pad your resume and open many opportunities.
Step 3: Earn Your Professional Paralegal Certificate
Although you have earned a bachelor’s degree at this point, you still need to be a certified paralegal if you want to get a job in the real world.
There are several different certification programs available to you from various organizations, as follows:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- NALS – The Association for Legal Professionals
To earn a paralegal certificate, you must be eligible based on where you live and complete a paralegal exam. These vary in requirements and preparation, like the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE).
Step 4: Look for Jobs With Law Firms or Government Agencies
Now that you’re a certified paralegal, getting hired should be significantly easier. This is when you can search for various jobs in the area of law. This isn’t just at law firms. Certified paralegals thrive within healthcare, real estate, intellectual property, and the corporate sector.
Should You Become a Paralegal in 2020?
Absolutely. If you are just starting a career in law or business, becoming a paralegal is a reliable option for job security. The rapid growth over the next decade is reason enough to explore your options in legal departments. The sheer variety of different places in which certified paralegals can work is astounding.
FAQ About Becoming a Paralegal
It would be best if you were adept in the ways of business and administration. Since you will be tackling various clerical and administrative duties, you will have to be an expert in areas of law. Taking part in an internship program is your best path to success.
Depending on your education level, internships, and entry-level jobs, becoming a paralegal can take anywhere from two to four years. Becoming ABA-approved will also take some time.
You will at least need an associate degree. You should ideally earn your bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like a business. A degree in paralegal studies is even better.
You can earn an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies for around $20,000. Of course, this varies from school to school. If you want to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies or higher, that will cost you the standard tuition.