We’ve spent a lot of time talking about various skills that benefit paralegals. This month, we’re going back to basics for those who are just starting out. We’re going to discuss how to become a paralegal. It’s something we all wondered at some point before we started in the legal industry. In this post, we’re going to explain a few of your options.
Choose a Paralegal Program
One of the best ways to become a paralegal is to enroll in a specialized program. A good program won’t just send you through basic educational courses (like business math and English). It will also offer substantive legal courses as well as courses that essentially teach you how to be a paralegal. That is, how to interview clients, how to construct or find basic legal forms for your jurisdiction, and how to manage a law office. Many good two and four year paralegal programs also offer courses such as deposition and medical records summary.
There are also fantastic certificate programs that are designed for individuals with an existing college degree. These paralegal programs are generally focused on one or two areas of law, such as family law or criminal law. By and large, these programs cover substantive law and include legal research and writing.
Another common question related to paralegal programs is whether someone should choose an ABA approved program. If you can attend an ABA approved program in your area, that’s great. Not everyone has one in their area. Most paralegal programs, even if they’re not officially approved, are great programs. Online programs are another option. They are great if you don’t have the time or ability to attend a traditional program. Paralegal programs that are hosted fully (or mostly) online are not eligible for ABA approval. Yet, many of them (just like more traditional programs that aren’t officially approved) tend to follow the requirements set forth by the ABA. You can grab a copy of what the ABA believes paralegal education should include by clicking here.
Take a look at some paralegal or legal assistant postings from Indeed.com. You can even change the search to match your area. There are some that want experience, of course. There are also a lot of job openings that are open to those without any sort of experience or training.
Yes, that’s right. You can get an entry-level job at a law office and learn how to become a paralegal. Of course, there are some skills that you may need to have in place such as good listening skills, customer service skills, good typing skills, and some basic research skills. Learning how to become a paralegal on the job is a great option because you learn how things work in your chosen jurisdiction. You can even learn how things worth at an appellate level and the federal level.
A Combination Approach
As someone with more than a decade of legal experience, I advocate a combination approach. There’s a lot to be learned in a classroom environment. You also don’t have to worry about the added stress of making a mistake that could cause a serious problem for your supervising lawyer or a client. Yet, on-the-job training is also important. You learn exactly what is expected of you in a legal environment. You also learn how legal matters proceed in your jurisdiction.
Ultimately, you must determine which path works best for you. Explore your options!