How to Become a Paralegal
Paralegals are responsible for assisting lawyers with their daily responsibilities. Tasks commonly include conducting research, writing reports, and keeping track of important documents. They are also responsible for collecting statements and aiding lawyers with research. Paralegals typically work within law offices, and may be employed privately or through the federal or state governments. Paralegals should be organized, proficient researchers, and should also know how to operate various computer software programs to keep track of documents and files.
At a minimum, paralegals are required to have some professional education and law experience. Students interested in pursuing this career path should consider enrolling in an internship program with a law office prior to graduation, as many employers prefer qualified candidates. Experience with filing and word processing software is also a necessity, as is knowledge of legal language. Candidates should be detail-oriented and comfortable with intensive research.
Education & Training
Most law offices require paralegal candidates to have at least an associate degree, however some may require a bachelor’s degree instead. While some schools may offer an online certificate in paralegal studies, earning a certificate in lieu of a degree may make it difficult to establish a career. However, certificate programs are an excellent option for individuals who already have a degree, but who have no legal training. While enrolled, students should consider getting some legal experience to improve their resumes.
After earning online degrees in paralegal studies, students may want to consider getting certified in the field. Certification is not typically required by law offices, but becoming certified can improve job prospects, especially for individuals who do not have as much legal experience as fellow candidates. Though there is no one association dedicated to paralegal certification, graduates can look into local and national organizations to find certification exams. Students also have the option of becoming certified in various software programs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the paralegal field is set to grow by 18% by 2020, which is about as fast as the average career. Paralegals earn, on average, $46,680 annually, with the lower 10% earning around $29,460 and the top 10% earning over $74,870, according to the BLS. However, exact salary figures will depend upon the employer and the candidate’s location. Opportunities for advancement include senior paralegal positions. Paralegals can also choose to tailor their careers by pursuing additional training in contracts, prosecution, and other areas of law.