Paralegals are assistants of attorneys. They perform work that does not require the direct involvement of the attorney, which allows for the attorney to focus on tasks that only he or she is able to perform. Given the growing demand for paralegals, this is a career with great prospects for anyone who would like to enter into the legal profession.
Graduate from high school or get your GED. This is required to begin your paralegal post-secondary education.
Find a school that offers a paralegal program. There are short programs for those who already hold a degree or for those who are already working in the legal profession. Otherwise, you will need to enroll in a longer program.
The shortest option is a two-year associate degree from a community college. There are programs specialized in paralegal studies only that can last from 3 to 18 months. Or, to better your prospects of a good position, complete a bachelor’s degree with a major in paralegal studies.
Whichever type of program you choose, make sure that it is accredited. For-profit colleges and online programs sometimes have degrees that are not accredited and that will not help you secure a good position at a reputable law firm.
Consider whether you would like to seek specialization in a specific field. Some law firms are looking for paralegals who are specialized in only one area of law.
You will be much more likely to be hired if you have prior experience working in the legal field. This is best accomplished by finding an internship that has you performing administrative tasks.
Also, after you have completed your paralegal education and have become certified, one option is to seek further certification. Certification programs are run by practicing attorneys and you will receive hands-on training. You may also be required to take a certificate examination.
Certification programs can take as few as 18 credit hours. This means that it is possible to have the program completed in one or two semesters. However, some programs require 45 credit hours. Fortunately, these programs are usually designed for working professionals and can usually be completed by taking night and weekend courses.
Paralegals are trained in the following areas:
- Legal Research
- Legal Writing
- Corporate Law
- International Law
- The use of computers in the legal field
There are other skills that will be generally useful for anyone in any field, including that of a paralegal. These include:
- Time Management
- Communication Skills
- Interpersonal Skills
- Organizational Skills
Some of the best paralegal schools include:
- Villanova University
- University of Memphis
- Georgetown University
- University of Cincinnati
- University of San Diego
- Louisiana State University
There are also many online schools available, but always make sure that they are accredited.
The paralegal field is expected to continue to grow by 8%. Part of this growth will be driven by a growing population and part of it will be driven by law firms increasingly saving money by delegating more responsibilities to paralegals. This is pushed by clients who are searching for less expensive legal services.
The median yearly salary for paralegals was $48,810 in 2015. However, the top 10% earned as high as $79,010. Salary is dependent on years of experience and the firm that the paralegal was able to get into. In addition to the salary, the paralegal profession is attractive because it allows you to work in the legal field without any of the burdens of being an attorney. Even if you intend to become an attorney, becoming a paralegal is a great way to decide whether you want to work in the legal profession.