Discover The Steps To Become a Paralegal

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the job outlook for the paralegal field is better than the average for most fields.  Between 2010 and 2020, they predict that paralegal jobs will increase by 18%, which is 4% more than the expected increase in all other occupations combined.  This statistic alone may be causing more people to wonder how to become a paralegal.

When I began to search for a career, I wondered, “what is a paralegal and what does a paralegal do?”  The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”  That definition, clear as it may be, did not give me any details about the role a paralegal plays in a law firm.

Become a Paralegal

How to Become a Paralegal

According to the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney to produce work product that is merged with and becomes part of the attorney’s work product.  Types of tasks performed by paralegals include:

  • Drafting legal documents
  • Performing legal research
  • Maintaining files and documents
  • Assisting with trial preparation and at trial
  • Interviewing clients and witnesses

A paralegal can perform any task assigned by an attorney but she may not give legal advice, set fees nor represent a client in court.

Mapping out a career path to becoming a paralegal

Now that you understand what a paralegal does, you may wonder how you become a paralegal.  Some individuals chose their career path while in high school while others may choose to become a paralegal while in college.  Still others choose to become a paralegal as part of a career change.  My personal path to becoming a paralegal took me from high school to a community college for a two-year Associates of Art Degree then a two-year Associates Degree in paralegal studies.  However, you may choose another path for becoming a paralegal.  The path that you choose will determine how long it takes to become a paralegal.

 

Discover The Steps To Become a Paralegal

 

Career Paths For Becoming a Paralegal

 

 

 

High school to certification

The quickest route to becoming a paralegal is to go directly from high school into a certification program.  Most paralegal certification programs are less than one year and provide the basic education needed to become a paralegal.  You can find paralegal certification programs online or through local community colleges or technical schools.  Some universities also offer certification programs.  The downside to a paralegal certification without any further post-high school education is that it may make it more difficult to find a paralegal job.

Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree in paralegal studies

For individuals seeking to increase their ability to earn a higher paralegal salary, they should obtain a college degree in paralegal studies.  Colleges offer two-year Associate’s Degrees and four-year Bachelor’s Degrees in paralegal studies.  The benefits of choosing a college degree rather than a certification include better paying jobs, more job opportunities and a more well-rounded education.  College degrees combine paralegal studies with general education classes designed to develop critical thinking and communication skills that are helpful when becoming a paralegal.  Most large law firms and corporate legal departments have minimum job requirements for paralegals that often include having an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree.  According to the National Federal of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), current trends indicate that a four-year degree is becoming the hiring standard in many markets.

Can I become a paralegal if I have a Bachelor’s Degree in another field?

If you have a Bachelor’s Degree in another field but want to change careers, you can become a paralegal by earning a paralegal certificate.  This usually takes one year or less and can often be done through online paralegal programs.  Some colleges may offer accelerated two-year degrees for individuals who already hold a Bachelor’s Degree since they have completed most, if not all, of the general education courses.

Having a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science is not the only degree that you can use when changing careers to become a paralegal.  For example, a degree in English is often helpful when applying for a position as a litigation paralegal since strong language skills are required when drafting pleadings.  Likewise, a pre-med degree would be very useful when applying for a worker’s compensation or personal injury paralegal position.

Can I become a paralegal without going to school?

Because becoming a paralegal does not require a formal degree or certificate, you may be able to find a job as a paralegal without attending a paralegal school.  As stated above, the current trend is to require some type of formal education; however, some attorneys may prefer to train someone in-house. (Check your specific State’s regulations)

Another path, which is much more common, for becoming a paralegal without going to school is to transition into a paralegal job from another support staff position such as a legal secretary.  Again, this is becoming rarer as attorneys seek employees who have a formal paralegal education.

If you want to become a paralegal but you cannot attend a traditional school, you should consider online paralegal training.  Discover how to become a paralegal through online training by contacting a college or school that offers online educational programs.  Online paralegal programs offer the flexibility and convenience required by individuals who cannot attend a traditional college campus.  Many offer college degrees in additional to paralegal certifications.

Sources:

U. S. Bureau of Labor

American Bar Association

National Association of Legal Assistants

National Federation of Paralegal Associations

None found at this time.
About Tonya P.

Tonya has a BS in Political Science in addition to her paralegal degree. During her 23 years as a paralegal, she has worked in the areas of family law, real estate, probate law and bankruptcy law. For the past 15 years, she has worked solely for bankruptcy attorneys including her time working for a bankruptcy trustee.

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