So, you graduated college with a paralegal degree and are now happily working as a paralegal, but does that mean that your education is over? Whether you are certified by a paralegal agency who requires continuing legal education (“CLE”) credits each year or not, you should always be on the lookout for new learning opportunities. Taking classes, attending seminars, and keeping up to date on the law can help you learn and grow as a paralegal, acquiring new skills and making you more valuable to your employer and more attractive to potential future employers. Continuing education does not have to mean expensive CLE credit approved classes; in fact, it doesn’t really have to mean any class at all. There are many ways of learning and acquiring new skills online and at no charge.
Read the Law
Probably the best way of learning about a new area of the law, is to just sit down and read the code! If you are interested in family law, for example, locate your state’s marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, adoption, and guardianship codes and then read them. It is always best to read an annotated version of the code, if you have it available. LexisNexis and Westlaw both offer annotated versions of state and federal code. Annotated codes include case summaries for important cases that have interpreted that particular section of the code, and can help you to better understand the law and how the Courts have interpreted it in the past.
Not only is reading the code an excellent way to learn, but keeping up with changes in the law in your geographical area of practice, by reading new decisions issued by your state’s appellate Courts is a great way of learning about the law, as well. If you have access to LexisNexis or Westlaw, run a search for new cases on a regular basis, and any time you hear a news piece about a decision of the Court, go and read it the next chance you get.
Read About the Law
Another excellent way to learn about a new area of the law, or more about an area you are already familiar with is to read articles, pamphlets, and blog posts about the law. Some great places to find relevant information include legal blogs, legal information sites, and government resources.
A great source of information can be found in law firm, paralegal, and attorney blogs. Most law offices and freelance paralegals maintain websites that contain a wealth of information about specific areas of the law. You can locate relevant blogs by:
1. Searching. Use your favorite search engine to run a search for law blogs or attorney offices in your area and then check each site that you locate for a blog.
2. Joining LinkedIn. Join, or start using, LinkedIn and network with other legal professionals. Once you have created a network of paralegals and attorneys, and have joined some paralegal groups, your timeline and group areas will be full of links to articles of interest to a legal professional.
3. Consulting the Legal Blawg Archive. The Legal Blawg Archive is provided by the Law Library of Congress and contains over 100 links to legal blogs covering several different areas of the law.
Legal Information Sites
While there are many websites purporting to provide up to date and accurate legal information, as a legal professional, you should only rely on information provided by a reputable company. A couple of reputable places to obtain legal information include:
1. Findlaw. Findlaw is a great place to start reading and learning about a specific area of the law. It offers a directory of articles explaining every aspect of the law, organized by practice area. Choosing an area will allow you to narrow down your selection to the specific subject you would like to learn about. Articles cover everything from the basics to the specifics.
2. The Legal Information Institute (“LII”) . LLI is maintained by Cornell University Law School, provides in-depth information about state and federal codes, procedures, and rules. The site covers every aspect of the law with links to codes, articles, government resources, and a legal encyclopedia.
The U.S. government, as well as each of the state governments, publish a wealth of information on the internet, and it is available free of charge to users who know where to find it. Some great government resources include:
1. Your state government’s website. Your state government’s website is a good place to look for information about the law. You can locate your state government’s website using the Internal Revenue Service’s (“IRS”) State Government Websites directory.
2. Your state Court’s website. Many state Court websites contain information for pro se litigants that can give a paralegal a great education in local rules and procedures. You can locate your Court’s website using this State Court Websites listing provided by the National Center for State Courts (“NCSC”).
3. The IRS. The IRS is an invaluable source of information for those interested in learning more about tax law. Search for a topic of interest or just browse through the forms and publications.
4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website is a great place to go to learn about immigration law and procedure.
If you are not sure what government agency may have information about the topic in which you are interested, you can browse this list of links to federal government agencies, provided by USA.gov, the United States Government’s official website.
Take a Free College Level Course Online
The internet abounds with advertised free things that are not really free, but a free education can be found, and it is oftentimes provided by some of the top universities in the country, such as University of California – Berkley (“UC Berkley”), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”), Yale University (“Yale”) and John Hopkins University. The downside to free college courses is that no degree or certificate can be obtained by completing the classes. The upside? Since you likely already have a paralegal degree, you do not need another one. You just need to learn and maybe have something to dress up your resume!
Free online college level courses relevant to your career as a paralegal can be found on any of the following websites:
1. Open Education Database (“OEDb”). OEDb provides a listing of free open education courses offered by Yale, MIT, and other well-known educational institutions. Many law and law related courses, lectures, and articles are included in the OEDb database.
2. The Open University (“OU”). OU offers 100’s of legal classes covering beginning to advanced levels on just about any legal topic or practice area.
3. Coursera. Cousera offers 1000’s of courses covering every topic imaginable, including business, law, and other relevant subjects.
5. Education Portal. The Education Portal offers approximately 25 free college courses, including Introductory Business Law, for those wanting to learn more about contracts and the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”).None found at this time.