Educational Requirements for Becoming a Paralegal
Q: Do I need to go to college to be a paralegal?
If you already have a bachelor degree in something related to the paralegal field, you may not need any further education to get your foot in the door somewhere as a paralegal or legal secretary. However, if you have less than a bachelor degree or a degree in an unrelated field, you will very likely need at least a paralegal certificate, if not an associate degree.
Q: Do I need to go to an American Bar Association (“ABA”) approved college?
Everyone does not need to attend an ABA approved school. Sometimes non ABA approved schools are good enough to get you started in a paralegal career. It all depends on your background. If you have a bachelor or higher degree in anything, you probably do not need to attend an ABA approved school in order to impress employers and get a job. If you have an associate degree in something else, then you may want to consider going to an ABA approved school for your paralegal degree, but it may not be completely necessary. If you have previous experience working in an office, as a secretary or administrator, you will likely be able to get a job as a paralegal with a paralegal degree from any accredited college or university.
Q. Is there a difference between ABA approved schools and accredited colleges and universities?
Accreditation of post secondary educational institutions is done by private organizations that have been recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. These institutions evaluate colleges and universities in order to determine if they meet certain standards for quality and criteria for excellence. In order to determine if an educational institution is accredited, you should check the DOE’s Database of Accredited Post Secondary Institutions and Programs. It is not generally recommended that you attend a non-accredited college or university.
The ABA provides a Directory of Approved Paralegal Education Programs for prospective students to determine what paralegal programs have been approved by the Standing Committee on Paralegals. In order to be approved, an educational institution must meet and maintain certain educational standards and comply with the ABA’s guidelines for approval. It is generally not necessary to attend a program approved by the ABA, but probably best to do so, if you can.
Q: What is the difference between a paralegal certificate and paralegal certification?
A: There are several.
For complete information on the difference between a certificate and certification see Paralegal Certificate vs. Paralegal Certification.
Q: Should I get a Certificate or an Associate degree?
A: It depends.
If you already have a degree or relevant experience, you may be able to break into the business with a certificate and save the expense of an Associate degree. For more information about what program is best for you and how to choose the right school, see 7 Steps to Choosing the Paralegal School Right for You
Getting a Job as a Paralegal
Q: How do I create a resume that will get me an interview?
A: There is no one right way to make a resume.
The first step to creating a good one is to think of it as an advertisement for you. Your resume’s purpose is to sell you, so get creative, and really sell yourself. For help creating your resume, see 10 Steps to Create a Paralegal Resume to Get You an Interview.
Q: How do I prepare for a paralegal job interview?
A: Choose appropriate clothing, have your answers ready, and relax!
For complete information about how to choose your clothing see Dress for a Paralegal Job Interview. Information about how to ace the interview and answer common questions can be found in 8 Steps to Have a Successful Interview with a Law Firm and How to Answer the 5 Most Difficult Job Interview Questions.
Q: How do I get a job with no experience?
A: Do an internship, volunteer your time, or settle for ‘relevant’ experience.
See No Paralegal Work Experience? 5 Tips to Make the Most of It for complete information about these and more things you can do to get a job with no previous experience.
Running a Freelance Paralegal Business
Q: I want to run my own freelance paralegal business. Where do I start?
A: At the beginning.
There are many things to consider and to do before starting your own paralegal business.
First, you should think about whether you are ready to run your own business or not. Some signs that you may not be ready include:
- You have no other source of income. If you have no other source of income, you probably are not ready to start any type of business. Most lose money their first couple of years, so you will need some additional income and support while starting your business.
- You prefer a lot of guidance from your supervisor. When you run your own freelance paralegal business, your clients will expect you to work very independently. If you are not comfortable with this, you might not be ready for the freelance world.
- You have too many family, household, and other responsibilities. While running your own business does allow you to set your own hours, it also requires you to work many more than 40 a week for quite some time, if you want to be successful.
Second, you need to decide what services you will provide. Things you should consider while making this decision include:
- Your target audience. Will you provide services only to attorneys or to the general public as well? Does your state allow you to provide services to the public? What types of services are you qualified to provide?
- Your skills. Think about what type of legal jobs you can do with very little supervision. If need quite a bit of help writing memorandum, you might not want to offer this service. However, if you are great with numbers and very organized, estate and guardianship accountings might be something you can do very well.
- Your experience. While you may be allowed under federal law to provide bankruptcy petition preparation services to the public, if you have never done a petition, this probably is not a good service for you to provide.
Third, you will need a business plan, a website, a marketing strategy, and some office equipment. For help with your business plan and actually putting it into practice see 8 Must Haves in a Business Plan for a Paralegal Business, How to Start Paralegal Business, What You Need to Know About Networking, Formalizing Your Paralegal Business, Blogging for Paralegals, and Your Online Reputation – Why it Matters and How to Manage it.None found at this time.