Tis the Season…for a New Career: How to Become a Paralegal

It’s the end of 2016 and we’re all feeling it. We’re all hoping 2017 will be better. The end of the year means thinking about your goals for the upcoming year. It’s about more than making a resolution to eat better or read more. It’s time to start thinking about your future. Think of it this way: the sooner you start your studies, the sooner you will become a paralegal. A lot of people don’t know how to get started, and that’s understandable. Being a paralegal is incredibly rewarding. Here are the steps you can take to become a paralegal. 

Paralegal Program Basics

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to choose the right paralegal program. Before I answer that here, you should know that many paralegals don’t participate in traditional educational courses. Some simply learn on the job. However, if you pay attention to paralegal job posts in your area over the next few weeks, you’ll notice that most lawyers and corporations want a paralegal with an education or with experience.

There are three basic types of paralegal studies programs. First, there is the certificate program. Most certificate programs are geared toward people who have a college degree. They take some specific legal courses and over about 12 to 18 months, they earn a certificate. A certificate program will offer courses in legal research as well. It’s intensive, but doesn’t include basic courses.

The second type of paralegal program is a two year program. These programs are usually degreed programs (an Associate’s degree). You would take basic courses such as English, Algebra, history, and communications courses. You’d also take several substantive law, research, and writing courses.

The third type of paralegal program is a four year program. These programs provide a Bachelor’s degree. Like a two year program, you’ll take traditional courses, courses based on law, and you’ll also have a wider choice as far as electives are concerned.

Online or Ground Paralegal Classes?

Whether you should take online or ground paralegal classes is ultimately your decision. There are some things you should consider. If you are adamant about taking courses through an ABA approved course, you will need to take ground courses in your area from a college that is ABA approved. With that said, not all traditional colleges have ABA approved paralegal studies programs. So, there may not be an approved course in your area. With that said, most paralegal programs follow the stringent requirements for ABA approval even if they don’t have the designation.

Online paralegal studies courses currently cannot be ABA approved. Yet, they are a great option if you’re a parent or if you work full time. The main question to ask yourself regarding online coursework is if you are good at managing your own time. Will you be driven enough to complete your coursework without the weekly over the shoulder supervision that you would receive in a traditional class? Online courses are just as much work as ground courses.

Stop Waiting – You’re Worth It

Stop waiting to become a paralegal. If you love law and if you love helping others, you really should do some research to decide if becoming a paralegal is right for you. Paralegal studies programs can be found that fit most schedules. Just think – within the next year or two (or four, if you want a Bachelor’s degree!), you could be working as a paralegal. You deserve to have a career that you love!

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