Paralegals can work in a law or an attorney’s office, a government agency, corporation, or any other work place with a legal department. A paralegal’s exact tasks can vary and depend upon the size and legal specialization (if any) of the organization. Generally speaking, a paralegal is responsible for handling legal documents, compiling reports, using software applications, and working with legal officials. Paralegals, as well as legal assistants, help lawyers prepare for court dates and meetings. You can use the links below to navigate through this guide, and learn more about how to become a paralegal.
- What does it take to become a paralegal?
- How to get started as a paralegal
- What do paralegals study?
- What areas of law can paralegals practice?
- Do paralegals need to be certified?
This is an excellent time to begin your journey to becoming a paralegal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the job outlook is expected to grow 8% from 2014-2024. As you can see from the chart below, that is higher than the national average growth rate for all other occupations.
This increased growth employment trend is largely attributed to law firms utilizing paralegals in a more efficient manner, which streamlines the legal services they provide to their clients. In addition, more corporations are hiring paralegals to work directly for them rather than having to spend more money hiring a paralegal through a law firm.
What does it take to become a paralegal?
You can become a paralegal with an associate, bachelors, or master’s degree in paralegal studies from an accredited college or university. An associate’s degree program can be completed in two years, and will prepare you for an entry level paralegal position.
Many employers, especially those from larger or specialized law firms, prefer to hire those with a bachelor’s in paralegal studies. A bachelor’s degree typically takes about four years to complete, and a master’s degree program will continue for an additional two years. The time it takes to obtain a degree can change depending upon how many classes you take per semester, and the overall structure of that program.
There are plenty of degree programs available to students interested in pursuing a legal career. It is always important research the school that you are interested in to ensure that their degree programs are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The following links will help you learn more about the requirements, career opportunities, and salaries of some of the popular degree options in this field.
- Paralegal Studies – Associate Degree Programs – Students have the choice to pursue either an associate of arts or an associate of science (also referred to as an associate of applied sciences). Both of these degree programs will provide students with fundamental skills and knowledge they will need to either continue their education or enter the workforce as a paralegal.
- Legal Studies – Associate Degree Programs – Graduates of an applied sciences associates in legal studies are prepared to continue their education in any legal field such as legal assistant, paralegal, or lawyer.
- Paralegal Studies – Bachelor Degree Programs – You will be able to hone your legal research and writing, litigation, and critical thinking prowess in either a paralegal bachelor’s of arts or bachelor’s of sciences. You will also have the opportunity to be introduced to various legal specialties.
- Legal Studies – Bachelor’s Degree Programs – A bachelor’s degree in legal studies will give you a developed understanding of various legal systems and practices that you can apply to a wide array of organizations like nonprofits, businesses, and the military.
- Paralegal Studies – Master’s Degree Programs – With this degree program, you will gain a deep understanding of legal practices that will prepare you to be a top-tier paralegal in government agencies, corporations, law firms, and more.
- Legal Studies – Master’s Degree Programs – This degree program is traditionally designed with the working legal professional in mind, since its goal is to sharpen your understanding of law as a whole. These programs can take as little as a year to complete because they boost your legal knowledge without having to become a lawyer.
Knowing how much time and resources you have to dedicate to your studies is important when picking a degree path that is right for you. Online paralegal degree programs are becoming increasingly popular, due to their scheduling flexibility and lower cost than a traditional school. The featured degree programs below can help you start or continue your paralegal education.
How to Get Started as a Paralegal
The first step in becoming a paralegal is to find an accredited paralegal studies program. Most paralegals have an associate’s degree or a certificate in paralegal studies, while some earn a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in paralegal studies. The following programs fulfill these criteria and might make excellent options:
Miller-Motte Technical College
Southern Technical College
What do paralegals study?
Paralegal students develop their critical thinking, communication, organizational, economical, technological, and investigative skills while they are learning the fundamentals of law. Each institution has their own format for presenting this information, yet there are several classes that are standard at the associate level.
You will also need to take these courses within the first two years of your bachelor’s program if you do not initially get an associates. These classes will give you the foundational knowledge that you will need to start your career and continue your education. The titles for these classes may vary depending on the educational institution.
- Introduction to Legal Studies
- Tort Law
- Professional Ethics
- Civil Practice
- Legal Research and Writing
At the bachelor level, especially in your third and fourth year, you can begin to dive into the different areas of law that you can encounter in your paralegal career. These courses act as an introduction to various types of law, which can help you determine if there is a specific law-category that you would like to pursue further.
- Family Law
- Advanced Litigation
- Criminal Law
- Probate and Estate Planning Law
What areas of law can paralegals practice?
A paralegal is responsible for a variety of tasks, including investigating a case to confirm and gather facts, conducting legal research, and assisting lawyers with their legal writing. Technically, paralegals are not allowed to actively practice law. However, they can specialize in a particular area of law while also having well-rounded legal knowledge.
In this case, specializing does not mean that you are solely committed to that one type of law, but you can have a concentration in one or more types of law. It is important that paralegals have at least a basic understanding of the law in general, since law firms and other paralegal work places are allowed to take on cases outside their specialty. Legal specializations include:
- Labor Law
- Immigration Law
- Personal Injury
- Criminal Law
Do paralegals need to be certified?
A certification is an excellent addition to any degree, and having one will help you stand out to potential employers. Certification courses are usually completed in about the same time as a standard semester, but they can be longer or shorter depending on the organization administering the courses.
In addition to certifications, these organizations have a variety of other resources that you can use to help you with your education and career.
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
While having a certification is not a general requirement, many employers prefer to hire paralegals who have obtained one in addition to their degree. Once you have finished the course, you can then apply to take the certification exam.
Paralegals are in high demand, and there are a variety of educational and career paths to explore. Check out the rest of our website to learn more about the paralegal field and online degree programs.