This useful guide will help you with how to become a paralegal. No matter which career you choose, you may feel like quitting if you are not happy with the work. So it’s crucial to do a self-assessment before you choose any profession. If you love helping people to solve their problems, becoming a paralegal can give you a satisfying career.
One of the key benefits of paralegal jobs is its growing demand. Also, you can earn a lucrative income from this opportunity. Additionally, if you have expertise in a particular area of law, you can get several opportunities for career advancement.
However, it also has a dark side like every other profession that we will discuss towards the end of this article. Now let’s explore how to become a paralegal step by step.
How To Become A Paralegal?
There are several opportunities in the legal field, and paralegal is one of them. But many are not sure about what it is. So, before we discuss how to become a paralegal, let’s understand a few essential things about this career option.
What Is A Paralegal?
A paralegal practices legal work that has extensive knowledge and experience of law and legal procedures. But paralegals are not lawyers who work in the courtroom for a legal claim or case.
However, they perform most of the tasks of a legal attorney. They have independent legal ethics and they work under the supervision of a lawyer. A company’s legal department, a law office, or a lawyer appoints them. Now, take a look at the paralegal job description.
What Do Paralegals Do?
Although they can perform almost all the legal tasks, the attorney will be responsible under which they work. They can draft legal documents, file essential paperwork, write reports, and even investigate the facts of a case.
Despite having all the ability to work as a lawyer, they cannot lead a case in the courtroom. In a nutshell, you can refer to them as legal agents. The nature of their job varies between different states and jurisdictions.
Generally, paralegals cannot offer legal services. But in some states and jurisdictions, they can offer their legal services such as court filing, settlements, and auxiliary legal services. Often a solicitor instructs the paralegal to perform the tasks.
If you want to become a paralegal, you should have the required qualifications. You must complete an associate’s paralegal degree. Also, you can have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in legal studies.
Additionally, you need to obtain relevant paralegal certifications before you apply for a job. You will learn more about the studies and degrees in this article later.
Most of the legal firms offer a position for a paralegal. You can also find many paralegal job opportunities in the legal departments of corporations and government agencies. As mentioned above, the job responsibilities would be to prepare legal documents, contracts, closures, and reports.
The average salary for a paralegal is growing over the years. It also varies depending on which industry and company you work for. Generally, law firms and government agencies offer a lower salary than corporations.
However, the salary of a paralegal can range approximately between $60,000 to $90,000. If your state allows you to offer legal services as a paralegal professional, you can have a flexible and even more income based on your work.
If you feel that the career option is the right fit for you after reading this, learn how to become a paralegal in five steps.
Step-by-Step Guide On How To Become A Paralegal
Although there are no clear guidelines for standards of paralegals, some organizations offer paralegal programs and certification. Learn the steps on how to become a paralegal.
Step 1: Complete A Degree
First of all, you need to complete a formal education in the legal field. You should at least have the basic level qualification of law.
- Bachelors in Legal Studies: Most law firms and corporations ask for at least a bachelor’s degree in legal studies. It usually takes four years to complete the degree.
- Associate’s Degree Program: It’s a unique program offered by many professional organizations for paralegal services. You need a minimum diploma level qualification for admission into these programs.
- Master’s in Legal Studies: It’s not mandatory to have a master’s degree for most paralegal jobs. However, some profiles such as intellectual property law, trial advocacy may require master’s studies. There are many online programs available for working professionals.
Once you complete any of these qualifications, you can now obtain the paralegal certification from an authorized entity.
Step 2: Obtain Relevant Certification
Many professional organizations offer paralegal certification. You can apply for the examinations and obtain a certificate during or after your formal education.
However, the certifications are not mandatory for applying for a job or apprentice. But they show your exposure and keenness to pursue a career as a paralegal. Ensure that you apply for an examination that matches with your field of interest or expertise in law.
Step 3: Choose A Particular Field Of Law
A bachelor’s degree in legal studies is the same for all who want to pursue law as a career. However, there are optional subjects you can choose that will help you in your specialization. If you wish to pursue further education like a master’s degree, you can select a particular field as follows:
- Government Paralegal
- Litigation Paralegal
- Labor Law Paralegal
- Probate Paralegal
When you choose you choose an associate paralegal program and apply for certification, you should keep the field of law in mind.
Step 4: Acquire The Skills
When you are preparing for a job or master’s degree, the following skills will help you excel in your paralegal career. Some of the skills are not related to the legal field, but they are essential in the future.
- Legal Research
- Critical Thinking
- Reading Comprehension
- Judgment and Decision Making
- Complex Problem Solving
Next, you need to find an internship or job to gain experience.
Step 5: Find An Internship Or Job And Gain Experience
Once you finish your formal education, you can apply for a job. It may be a challenging task to get a job right after a bachelor’s degree, so you can do an internship. The internship program will give you exposure to the roles and responsibilities of a real paralegal professional.
There are various opportunities that you can apply upon graduating. You can find opportunities in insurance companies, banks, private law firms, corporates, etc. If you want to work in the public sector, there are opportunities in public defenders’ offices, government agencies, consumer organizations, etc.
Disadvantages Of Becoming A Paralegal
Like any other profession, it also has some disadvantages. Sometimes it can be stressful as you have to work for long hours. Although you work hard, you may not get enough appreciation for your work or position. You may not start your legal agency because it’s not authorized for paralegal professionals in some states.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some of the frequently asked questions related to becoming a paralegal in the US:
A: Great question! Paralegals are the unsung heroes of the legal world. They assist lawyers by conducting research, organizing documents, drafting legal documents, and even helping prepare for trials. They’re like the right-hand people who keep the legal machine running smoothly.
A: You don’t always need a four-year degree, but having one can open more doors. Many paralegals start with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field. Some opt for a bachelor’s degree to stand out in a competitive job market.
A: Absolutely! Some paralegals enter the field through on-the-job training or by gaining experience in other legal roles. However, having a formal education or certification can make you a more attractive candidate.
A: The gold standard is the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). These certifications can boost your credibility.
A: Absolutely! The legal world relies heavily on skilled paralegals. The demand varies by region and specialty, but overall, it’s a stable and growing field.
A: Paralegals wear many hats, so having a range of skills is key. Attention to detail, research and writing skills, organization, and good communication are all essential. Plus, being tech-savvy doesn’t hurt either!
A: Yes, you can! Law covers a wide range of specialties, from family law to corporate law. Many paralegals choose to specialize in a particular field that interests them, which can lead to more focused and rewarding work.
A: Paralegals can work in various settings, including law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Your work environment may vary depending on your chosen path.
A: Earnings vary by location, experience, and education, but the median annual wage for paralegals in the United States is competitive. With experience and specialization, you can earn a comfortable income.
A: Many paralegals find immense satisfaction in helping clients navigate the legal system and assisting attorneys in advocating for justice. It’s a career that offers a sense of purpose and a chance to make a meaningful impact.
Becoming a paralegal in the U.S. is an exciting journey filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and contribute to the legal world. If you’re passionate about law, attention to detail, and making a difference, this might just be the perfect career path for you. Best of luck on your paralegal adventure!
I hope the above information has helped you to understand how to become a paralegal. Now, start with a self-assessment and decide if you have the right skills and education. If you don’t have the minimum qualification, find a law institute in your state, and focus on studies. On the other hand, if you have the formal education and skills, find and apply for opportunities. Please feel free to ask your queries and drop your opinion in the comments section.