In this guide, I’m gonna teach you, how to become a paralegal with 6 simple steps. We explain what a paralegal does, how to become one, the necessary skills, the average salary and related jobs.
Considering to become a paralegal? This article has you covered! Discover key info before deciding: job tasks, education needs, career prospects, and pay stats. Plus, a step-by-step guide to becoming a paralegal, with certification and organization tips.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is someone who works with lawyers and law firms. They help out with important legal tasks, like research and paperwork, but they don’t give legal advice or go to court for clients, unless the law allows it.
Being a paralegal can be exciting and fulfilling. You’ll be part of a fast-paced environment, assisting people and organizations in your community. Plus, you can focus on a specific area of law that interests you.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
You might hear “paralegal” and “legal assistant” used interchangeably, but they’re actually different roles with distinct responsibilities. Paralegals are more involved in legal tasks, while legal assistants usually handle administrative duties.
Interestingly, legal assistants don’t always need degrees, but paralegals often have bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. In some states like California, paralegals have specific educational requirements, such as completing an ABA approved paralegal program.
For instance, National University offers rare ABA approved paralegal programs that include bachelor’s and associate’s degrees, as well as specialized certificates in areas like Litigation, Corporations, and Criminal Law. This education could be a great boost to your career!
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals have various tasks, but their specific duties depend on factors like experience, the legal field they focus on, and the needs of the firm. Generally, paralegals do things like:
- Collecting facts and info for legal cases
- Talking to clients
- Planning and managing cases
- Writing and analyzing specific legal documents, like contracts
- Getting statements and evidence for court
- Submitting legal papers to courts
- Helping lawyers prep for trials
- Taking notes or assisting during trials
It’s important to note that paralegals aren’t lawyers, so they work under attorney supervision. Still, being a paralegal gives you insight into law practice and skills like research and writing.
Interestingly, paralegals can become lawyers by going to law school and passing the bar exam. Being a paralegal is also a smart way to earn money for law school. At National University, we have a J.D. program for working professionals. Many J.D. students keep working as paralegals while in law school to save money.
And if you’re interested in legal careers, you might want to explore roles like law clerks, court reporters, or legal researchers.
So, if you’re thinking about how to become a paralegal, there are some cool paths to consider! Read on…
How much do paralegals earn on average?
The median salary for paralegals is around $52,920 per year, as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That breaks down to about $25.44 per hour. Your earnings can be influenced by factors like your workplace, the kind of organization you’re with, and your education and experience. So, where you work and what you bring to the table can impact your pay.
Skills Required for Paralegals
Paralegals use a mix of hard and soft skills to excel in their jobs. It’s a good idea to keep building these skills to boost your career, whether you’re going for a master’s degree in legal studies or aiming for certification. Here are some important skills to be aware of:
- Organization skills: Keeping things in order is key.
- Legal research: Digging up legal info is a big part of the job.
- Reading comprehension: Understanding complex texts is crucial.
- Active listening: Paying attention and understanding clients is a must.
- Judgment and decision-making: Making smart calls is important.
- Legal writing: Writing well is vital for legal documents.
- Critical thinking: Analyzing situations helps solve problems.
- Emotional intelligence: Being aware of emotions helps in interactions.
- Complex problem-solving: Tackling tough issues is part of the job.
- Public speaking: Speaking confidently is valuable.
So, whether you’re studying more or aiming for a certification, these skills are worth focusing on for a successful paralegal career!
How to Become a Paralegal
Here are the steps to take if you want to pursue a career as a paralegal:
Step 1: Complete a paralegal Education Requirements
So, if you’re interested in becoming a paralegal, there are different education paths you can take. You’ve got options like certificate programs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and even master’s degrees in legal studies.
These programs cover various aspects of law and how things work in the legal world. Depending on your background and goals, you can choose the one that suits you best.
- If you’re looking for a quicker way in, a certificate program might be your thing.
- If you want to dive deep, you could go for an associate or bachelor’s degree.
- And if you’re aiming for those top-tier positions, a master’s degree might be the way to go.
Just make sure whatever program you choose is approved by the American Bar Association.
Step 2: Obtain a professional paralegal certification
Once you’ve been a paralegal for about a year, you can choose to get a special certification. This isn’t something you have to do, but it comes with some perks. It could lead to better job opportunities and make employers trust you more. To get certified, you might need to pass tests about laws and related stuff, or meet certain requirements based on what you’ve learned and done.
Now, let me give you some options for getting this certification:
- Certified Paralegal (CP): A lot of paralegals like this one because the big shots like the American Bar Association think it’s a good deal. The test covers important things like how the legal system in the United States works, estate planning, what’s ethical, and different types of law like contracts, business law, and criminal law.
- Professional Paralegal (PP): If you want to go for this one, the test has four parts. It’s all about knowing your legal stuff inside and out. You’ll need to show you’re great at communication, know a bunch about the law, understand how legal things get done, and can handle technology.
- American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP): This is a bit special. To qualify, you need to be a pretty experienced paralegal, working for at least five years. You should also have some education, like a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s from a legit school. The school should be part of a group that’s in cahoots with the American Association for Paralegal Education.
So, if you’re thinking about giving your paralegal career a boost, getting one of these certifications could be the way to do it!
Step 3: Choose a specialize Area as a paralegal
Paralegals can find jobs in lots of different places, like private law firms, banks, insurance companies, real estate firms, professional trade groups, and company legal departments. There are also chances to work for the government, like federal and state agencies, community legal services, groups that help consumers, and offices for public defenders or prosecutors. If you look into certain specialized areas of law, you can focus your career and make your job search easier.
Here are some specific areas you can specialize in as a paralegal:
- Business and corporate law
- Contract administration
- Real estate
- Health care
- Intellectual property
- Personal injury
- Estate planning
Step 4: Complete an internship at a law firm
Think about doing an internship to learn useful skills that you can put on your resume. This could help you get some experience in a law firm, which employers like when looking for paralegals.
A lot of paralegal students do internships when they’re almost done with college or right after they graduate, especially if they have a bachelor’s degree or more.
To find paralegal internships, you can check with your college career center, talk to people in your professional circle, or look for them on job websites. It’s a good way to get some hands-on experience!
Step 5: Write a paralegal resume
When you’re all set to apply for paralegal jobs at the beginning level, making a specific resume that shows off your important qualifications can make you really noticeable compared to other applicants.
Paralegals write important legal papers, so being good at writing and checking for mistakes is super important. Make sure your resume is easy to read and doesn’t have any errors to show that you’re careful about details.
You could also look at the job description and add in specific words, like names of legal software you know or skills like looking up legal info and talking to clients. This will help match what the job is looking for!
Step 6: Interview for positions
The interview is a really important part of getting a paralegal job. During the interview, it’s a good idea to talk about times when you’ve handled big projects before. Sharing stories of how you’ve met tough deadlines and helped busy groups can show that you’re skilled.
Be ready for questions that check your decision-making and how you handle ethical situations. It’s all about showing your abilities and being prepared!
How long does it take to become a paralegal?
Becoming a paralegal can take anywhere from one year (for those with a prior degree applying to a paralegal certificate program) to over four years. The timeline depends on factors like the type of degree you’re pursuing (such as a bachelor’s or associate’s degree), whether you opt for extra paralegal certifications (and the time needed to study for exams), and any specific state requirements.
For instance, in California, they usually require an accredited degree and around 24 semester hours of law-related courses, along with other criteria you can find out about here.
Want to jump into action quickly? You have two ways to speed up your degree program:
First, pick paralegal programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) when applying to colleges. This not only guarantees quality but also equips you with essential skills early on for a head start in your career. Some states might require ABA-approved certifications. National University’s paralegal degrees are ABA-approved, meeting their strict standards outlined here.
Second, seek out accelerated academic options. National University offers unique formats like on-site, online, and hybrid classes, plus a one-course-per-month approach. This lets you complete your bachelor’s or associate’s degree faster, fitting your own schedule. The paralegal certificate program at National University takes as little as eight months to finish.
How to choose a paralegal program
Here are steps to guide you in selecting the best paralegal training program:
- Focus on ABA-approved schools, ensuring quality aligned with legal industry standards.
- Check the graduates’ employment rate to gauge the school’s job preparation.
- Look into local requirements and job prospects; often, an associate degree suffices for many paralegal positions.
- Think about pursuing a bachelor’s degree after your associate degree for further education.
Salary and benefits
Below is some key information about compensation packages for paralegals:
How much you earn as a paralegal hinges on factors like education, experience, employer, and location. Nationally, the average paralegal salary is around $56,747 yearly. In top-paying cities, like Washington, D.C. ($77,692), Los Angeles ($69,467), and New York ($66,353), salaries tend to be higher.
Benefits for full-time paralegals can vary by employer, but they usually offer comprehensive packages. These commonly include health, dental, and vision insurance, tuition support, life insurance, paid time off, and 401(k) plans. Other perks for paralegals might include:
- Employee discounts
- Flexible schedules
- Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Profit sharing
- Professional development assistance
- Referral programs
To boost your earnings as a paralegal, advancing in your career is a great move. Here are potential paths and their salaries, though note that some roles might demand advanced degrees:
Can I become a paralegal online?
Absolutely, you can become a paralegal online. Some colleges and universities, like National University, offer fully online paralegal programs. This includes online options for bachelor's, associate's, and certificate degree programs in paralegal studies.
What qualifications do you need to be a paralegal?
Many paralegals have either an associate's or bachelor's degree from an ABA-approved program. Getting an optional paralegal certification, like NALA's Certified Paralegal (CP) exam, can also be beneficial. And don't forget about state-specific regulations; for example, California has strict requirements you should consider.
How to become a paralegal without a degree?
Absolutely! Alongside your degree, having strong research and writing skills is crucial. If a traditional four-year program isn't your path, consider looking into accelerated bachelor's degree programs or associate degree options. These alternatives can also be valuable routes to consider.
How can I become a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree?
Becoming a paralegal is possible whether you have a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies or a different field. However, tailor your choices to your background and goals. For deeper legal knowledge, a master's in legal studies could be beneficial. If you're well-versed, legal certifications might be suitable. For more practical experience, look into internships to enhance your skills.