How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal? (For Real) in 2023

In this guide, I’m gonna teach you, How long does it take to become a paralegal along with a comprehensive step by step guide on how to become a Paralegal.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal

There are several ways to become a paralegal, with the most common option is a bachelor’s degree. Some employers may not require it, but a master’s in legal studies or another law degree provides a solid understanding of the law.

Becoming a paralegal takes 2 to 7 years based on your education. An associate degree takes about two years, a bachelor’s degree takes four years, and a master’s degree takes two more years. If you opt for paralegal certification, you’ll need time to prepare for the exams.

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal

Wondering about How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?

Paralegal programs come in a range, from just a few weeks to around four years. Your choices depend on your goals and education. If you’re thinking, “Is a paralegal a 2-year degree?” Well, quite often it is. If you go for an associate degree, then yes, it’ll take about two years. Plus, there are great certificate programs (even after your degree) that usually last between 18 months and two years.

Paralegal Certificate Programs

Not all certificate programs are the same, so it’s crucial to understand the differences and outcomes.

Online paralegal certificate programs: These can be finished in about six weeks and give you a certificate or diploma. While they might seem like a quick and affordable way to get into the field, not many lawyers will hire someone with only this education. The legal field isn’t simple, and becoming a skilled paralegal in a few weeks isn’t realistic. Paralegals are key team members who need strong skills and knowledge. To get a paralegal job, a solid education is a must.

Post-degree certificate programs: If you’ve already been to college, this might be for you. Offered by community colleges and universities, these certificates take five months to two years. Most programs need a couple of years of college coursework to show you’ve met general education requirements. They often focus on specific law areas like litigation, immigration, estate planning, and more.

Paralegal Degree Programs

How long does it take to get a paralegal degree? Usually, it’s around two to four years, depending on which level of degree you’re aiming for:

Associate degree programs: These are offered by community colleges and some universities. They take about two years to complete. They’re usually Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, or Associate of Applied Science degrees in paralegal studies. This is the most common way to become a paralegal. These programs include general education classes, some electives, and specific legal courses for paralegals. They prepare you for a broad role when you’re starting out. Some subjects covered are legal research, criminal law, legal terms, business law, and more.

Bachelor’s degree programs: Certain colleges and universities provide four-year bachelor’s degree programs (BA or BS) in paralegal or legal studies. If you want to specialize in a specific law area, a bachelor’s degree is great for that. It might even get you a better paralegal salary. Like an associate’s degree, these cover general education and general paralegal courses. But you can also focus on particular law areas. A four-year paralegal degree also looks into business management, which can help you land senior paralegal positions in big law firms and companies.

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Professional Certification Options for Paralegals

Boost your career by getting certified.

While being a paralegal doesn’t always require certification, many paralegals choose to pursue it, and some employers even ask for it. Four paralegal associations offer professional certification.

Some employers don’t need certification, but some prefer to see these four professional designations on resumes. Some firms might have specific certification needs. It’s a good idea to ask around and find out about preferred certifications in your region’s big firms before you decide which one to go for.

How long does it take to become a certified paralegal? After a couple of years in school, you can aim for professional certification from various agencies. Usually, you need an associate degree, post-baccalaureate certificate, or a mix of education and experience. Considering the exam, it might take about three years to become certified.

The key certification agencies for paralegals are:

  • National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA): Offers Certificate Paralegal (CP) and advanced specialty exams.
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA): Offers Registered Paralegal (RP) designation.
  • NALS – the Association for Legal Professionals: Offers three designations – Accredited Legal Professional (ALP), Certified Legal Professional (CLP), and Professional Paralegal (PP).

How to Become a Paralegal

How to Become a Paralegal

Step 1: Choose Your Education Path

6-Week Online Paralegal Certificate

Choosing a quick 6-week online paralegal program might be tempting. But before you do, check if local law firms hire graduates from those programs. The issue isn’t the online aspect; many are moving to online education. The real concern is the program’s curriculum. Even if they seem affordable and easy, if you can’t find a job after, your money might as well have gone to waste.

6-Month to 12-Month Paralegal Certificate Program

Many local colleges and universities offer paralegal programs, which can be in-person, online, or a mix. These programs give you a paralegal certificate in six to twelve months, depending on how many courses you take each session. Some need you to have an undergraduate degree before you join. If you already have a college degree, these programs are a good way to find better job chances as a paralegal.

Some of these programs are approved by the ABA, and some are not. But this approval doesn’t really affect the quality of your certificate or job prospects after. Being ABA-approved doesn’t mean you become “ABA-Certified” when you finish. There’s no such thing as ABA certification.

2-Year Associate’s Degree in Legal Studies

State colleges, community colleges, and technical institutes provide associate’s degrees in legal studies. It might take around two years or more to become a paralegal this way. However, you can speed things up by taking more paralegal classes each semester. This could help you become a paralegal in under two years.

4-Year Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies

Getting a bachelor’s degree in legal studies takes the longest time to become a paralegal. But it’s the route that offers you the most chances (except for the #2 choice above). With this option, even if you decide on a different career path, you’d still hold an undergraduate degree that could lead to other jobs.

Just like other bachelor’s degrees, your optional classes would help you prepare for working as a paralegal. Lots of universities have online courses too, which could let you finish some or all of your degree online.

Step 2: Choose a Specialization (If You’re Pursuing a Degree)

Students working toward a paralegal degree can pick a specialization that matches the role they want.

For example, future paralegals in law firms might choose a litigation focus in their Master of Legal Studies program. This teaches about legal research, writing, negotiation, civil procedure, and attorney-client relationships. Others might prefer learning how to help resolve conflicts between parties. Pepperdine Caruso School of Law offers a Master of Dispute Resolution, ranked No. 1 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best Dispute Resolution Programs.

While not required, choosing a specialization shapes your education and sets you apart from other job seekers. Specializations also offer chances to connect with mentors, experts in your field, attend networking events, do relevant internships, and publish papers on important industry topics.

Step 3: Get More Training

Finished your paralegal certificate program? Now what? Think about extra training in specific skills for the law field you’re aiming for. There are courses for paralegals that can give you an advantage when you send out your resume. For instance, many paralegal programs don’t focus on drafting time entries, but if you plan to work in a law firm, knowing how to draft time entries is vital.

Here’s another example: many litigation paralegals need ediscovery skills. You’d need ediscovery training on the process, tools, and workflow. But only a few paralegal programs offer this training in-depth.

Specialty Training for Paralegals

When you start as a paralegal, you can choose from different practice areas. At the beginning, you might not have the chance to be picky. Most paralegal programs teach core concepts in areas like civil litigation, real estate, corporate, and torts. But there are many other options to explore. For instance, in litigation, there are various subspecialties:

  • Personal Injury
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Securities
  • Antitrust
  • Construction
  • Intellectual Property
  • Real Estate Litigation
  • Insurance Defense
  • Mass Torts
  • E-discovery
  • Workers Compensation
  • Environmental
  • Bankruptcy
  • Civil Rights
  • Labor & Employment
  • Family Law

There’s a long list of possibilities. If you’re interested in litigation, consider taking extra courses in some of these areas. Even if you’re not sure where you’ll work, it adds skills to your resume.

The Paralegal Boot Camp has online training for litigation paralegals. They offer programs like the Personal Injury Paralegal Boot Camp, E-discovery Paralegal Boot Camp, and the Litigation Paralegal Boot Camp.

Step 4:  Get Certified.

A certified paralegal is not the same as having a paralegal certificate. A paralegal certificate shows you finished a paralegal education program.

A certified paralegal has passed an exam and met certain requirements set by the state or an association. They can use special titles like CP or RP. Someone with a paralegal certificate can’t use these titles. These titles are similar to CPA in accounting. Often, you need a paralegal certificate to take a certification exam.

Why get certified? Not all paralegals need it. But if you’re new, it could help you get your first job. It shows you have the basic skills for the job. For example, NFPA has a CORE exam for entry-level skills. NALA and NALS also have certification exams. Research which one’s recognized in your area.

Depending on your state, you might need state registration or certification. Look up paralegal CLE by state.

Just like any big decision, research your options, prices, and school reputation for your paralegal journey.

Step 5: Explore State-Level Requirements

In California, anyone using “paralegal” or “legal assistant” since 2000 must meet these requirements:

  1. An accredited degree with 24 law course hours.
  2. A certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program.
  3. A bachelor’s degree with a year of supervised legal work.
  4. A high school diploma/GED with three years of supervised legal work.

Independent paralegals in California must be certified by CALDA to run a business.

States like New York and Texas also have optional paralegal certification programs, giving you networking and credential options, but it’s not mandatory for the job.

Step 6: Apply for Internships or Find a Job

Lots of paralegal programs have internships. Full-time students get real experience in places like law firms, government offices, banks, or legal aid groups.

Internships show you what paralegals do, build your resume, and help you find things to improve. When it’s done, you might get a recommendation letter or job offer.

Step 7:  Don’t Ever Stop Learning.

Paralegal training goes beyond the certificate. No matter your path or practice area, successful paralegals always aim to improve their paralegal, tech, and communication skills.

  1. Is a career as a paralegal a good choice?

    If you enjoy using your communication and critical-thinking skills in the legal field, working as a paralegal could be a good match. Unlike becoming a lawyer, entering the legal field as a paralegal doesn't require a lengthy process. There are different workplaces and specialties to choose from based on your interests. As a paralegal, you'll carry out various tasks to assist attorneys in delivering top-notch service to clients.

  2. What does a paralegal do?

    While paralegals can't give legal advice, they do a lot of legal work with attorney supervision. Their work helps firms handle various tasks, like:

    Creating legal documents such as case files or pleadings.
    Keeping case documents organized.
    Talking to clients and witnesses.
    Managing court schedules.
    Analyzing legal and factual issues.
    Doing research to find facts and precedents.
    Assisting attorneys with preparations for meetings, hearings, and trials.
    Writing summaries, reviewing transcripts, and handling exhibits.
    Attending trials and court hearings with attorneys.

    Paralegal duties may differ based on the area or employer, but these tasks are essential and often billed to clients.

  3. What skills do paralegals need?

    A paralegal program will help you learn more about the industry and improve your skills for your career. Paralegals need these abilities:

    Communication: Paralegals join meetings, write documents, and present research to attorneys, so good oral and written communication is important.
    Computer: Paralegals use computers for research, supporting litigation, keeping records, and making documents.
    People skills: Paralegals build good relationships with clients and work with attorneys, assistants, clerks, and administrators.
    Organization: Paralegals handle many case files, manage deadlines, and adapt to changes quickly.
    Research: Paralegals find facts, research laws, read articles, and make legal documents.

  4. What qualifications might you need to be a paralegal?

    Employers usually decide what qualifications paralegals need, and there are no nationwide rules. The only exception is California, where paralegals need a high school education and at least three years of attorney-supervised work, a paralegal program certificate, or some kind of college degree.

  5. How much do paralegals make?

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that the middle pay for paralegals and legal assistants in 2021 was around $56,230 each year. Some make less, like the lowest 10 percent who earn under $36,410, while the highest 10 percent make more than $88,640.

    Where you work affects pay too. Paralegals in the federal government earn a middle salary of $69,680, and those in finance and insurance make around $64,740.

    How much you make also depends on your years of experience, the company's size, and where you live. For example, in 2020, paralegals in California made about $61,520 a year on average, says CareerOneStop.

  6. What is the job outlook for paralegals?

    The future looks good for paralegals. The BLS expects the field to grow “faster than average.” They say paralegal jobs will increase by 12 percent from 2020 to 2030. That's about 43,000 new positions each year. In California, the number of paralegals and legal assistants is predicted to grow by 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, says CareerOneStop.

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