The legal field is a highly competitive, yet rewarding area in the job market. Those who immerse themselves spend years training and educating themselves to best represent their clients and the legal system as a whole. To enter into this area can be daunting for some, but with many available occupations, anyone can find a job for themselves. A paralegal position is such a job that people without an education can find themselves in and can begin the necessary steps to a rewarding career. Paralegals assist lawyers in daily tasks such as case management, research, and trial preparations, allowing the lawyer to focus on more in depth, legal tasks. Over 8,000 people in the state of Virginia are employed as paralegals and the market is growing.
There are two ways to earn certification to be a paralegal. The first is through the educational route. Earning a degree in paralegal studies is a way to gain the necessary skills and knowledge needed to work as a paralegal before ever stepping foot into an office. The other option is through on the job training with a goal towards professional certification. Virginia does not regulate the paralegal field, allowing any ambitious and driven person to begin work as a paralegal. However, there are some recommended guidelines by the state as to who would be best suited for the work. With that said, finding an employer who is willing to give you on the job training is still a possibility and gets you started on your career path right away.
An educational route will give you accreditation to work as a paralegal from the moment of application and comes with certification. If you choose on the job training, you can earn a professional certificate. Having some advanced degree makes it easier. If you have twenty-four credit hours of paralegal coursework, you are a more desirable candidate, regardless of your degree field. Some paralegal studies courses can take nine to eighteen months to complete. Passing an American Bar Association approved course gives validation to your application and abilities. However, if education isn’t possible, spending five years under the guidance of an attorney will make you as equally qualified to be a paralegal as someone who graduated with a degree in paralegal studies because of the in-depth and hands on experience.
Like any career, there is some necessary training needed to be successful; however, not all skills can be taught. As part of the job, you will have access and be privy to some sensitive and confidential information. Paralegals must be discreet in this respect as well as trustworthy. You must also be able to relate to clients of all persons and situations. Organizational skills and good judgement are a must. On the job, paralegals will learn the ins and outs of the legal system, including legal terms and definitions, contract and document knowledge, as well as office skills and technology. Since the position may require fact checking, paralegals refine their research skills, which can be applicable in other legal careers you may consider pursuing.
There are many options available to those who wish to pursue education to obtain a paralegal studies degree. Virginia is not far from the top rated paralegal school in the country, Georgetown University. Other top schools include Hofstra, Duquesne, and Loyola University Chicago. If you wish to remain in state, top paralegal schools include Marymount University, American National University, and Northern Virginia Community College. Those who are working full-time can pursue the option of online college, allowing them to go to school when it best accommodates their schedule. Top online schools for paralegal studies include Liberty University, Florida National University, and Keiser University.
Paralegal Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics have listed the paralegal field as a healthy career path and is expected to grow. The Bureau estimates that the job market for this career will grow 18% between 2010 and 2020. The position is a supply and demand job. As more people are in need of legal advice and more lawyers opening offices, there is more of a need for paralegals today than ever before. To stay competitive, it is important for all those seeking a career as a paralegal to gain as much experience as possible.
Unlike some career paths, paralegal offers workers an immediate return for their work. The national starting annual salary is $46,000, meaning that those without a degree can already see quality income while receiving vital training. Currently, Virginia’s average starting salary is above the national average at $49,750. The average paralegal salary for the state is $78,340, with top earners taking in roughly $97,330. This rewarding career sets up a path for both financial and long-term success.