How to Become a Paralegal: 2024 Step-by-Step Guide

What Exactly Is a Paralegal?

Paralegals are an integral part of the legal system, providing essential support to lawyers in various settings such as private law firms, corporate legal departments, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

They perform a wide range of tasks, which may include conducting legal research, drafting legal documents, organizing case files, preparing trial exhibits, and communicating with clients, witnesses, and other parties involved in legal proceedings.

In addition, paralegals may also assist with administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments, managing calendars, and billing clients. Their role is crucial in ensuring that legal proceedings run smoothly and efficiently, and they are an essential asset to any legal team.

Paralegal Job Description and Responsibilities

Effective communication is an essential skill for paralegals. It requires a strong command of writing, a keen eye for detail, and a genuine interest in the complexities of the law.

Additionally, it is important for paralegals to be team players, as they typically work as part of a larger legal team and regularly interact with clients.

Paralegal duties can vary depending on the employer, but can include preparing for trials, drafting legal documents, organizing files, conducting legal research, performing administrative tasks, and communicating with clients. However, it is important to note that paralegals are not authorized to practice law or provide legal advice.

Paralegal Job Benefits and Trends

Law firms are increasingly relying on paralegals, creating a continuous demand for this profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $59,200 as of May 2022. In metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C. or New York, these figures are likely to be even higher.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also predicts a 4% growth in paralegal employment over the next decade, which is faster than the national average. Additionally, paralegals may enjoy other benefits such as flexible schedules, insurance, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, and retirement accounts.

6 Steps to Becoming a Paralegal

#1: Complete Your Paralegal Education

Paralegals are required to have an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or a post-degree certificate from a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Advanced education can help paralegals earn more, but many career options are available at each level of education.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in paralegal studies, consider earning an Associate or Bachelor of Applied Business in Law & Paralegal Studies degree. An online program can provide flexibility to study while working.

If you already have an associate or bachelor’s degree in a different field and want to enhance your competitive edge in the paralegal field, a post-associate or post-baccalaureate certificate program may be a good option. These programs typically take an additional year of education.

#2: Determine the Types of Law You Might Specialize In

The field of law is quite extensive. It can be challenging to determine which area of law would be the best fit for you. Would you be interested in working in family law, corporate law, real estate, personal injury, or in one of the many other areas of law? Knowing which specialty you are interested in can help you better understand how to customize your education and where to apply after earning your paralegal certification.

#3: Meet State-Level Paralegal Requirements

To work as a paralegal, it is crucial to understand and follow the specific laws of the state or states where you plan to work. You should confirm the job requirements for paralegals in each law firm or company you are interested in working for, as some states may require additional exams, a certain number of hours of paralegal experience, or certifications for paralegals.

#4: Gain Practical Paralegal Experience

Before starting your career as a paralegal, gaining practical experience through volunteering, interning, or working as a secretary in law offices can be helpful. A paralegal studies program can also connect you with internship and networking opportunities.

#5: Interview for a Paralegal Position

Congratulations! It’s time to embark on a rewarding new career after completing your paralegal degree program. By following these remaining steps, you can unlock a world of opportunity. Will you work for a law firm, a corporation, or a bank? Perhaps you’ll choose to continue your education and earn a certificate to unlock new earning potential and job responsibilities. The possibilities are endless!

#6: Earn Professional Paralegal Certification

Did you know that obtaining a professional certification after a year of paralegal experience can help you stand out and qualify for more advanced positions in the field? While it is optional, it is highly recommended. These certifications typically involve exams and eligibility requirements based on your education. The most common certifications are the Certified Paralegal (CP), Professional Paralegal (PP), Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE), and American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP).

How to Choose a Paralegal Program

Paralegal programs are designed to provide students with knowledge of law, legal research, legal writing, and more. Compared to the broad and theoretical approach followed in law school, paralegal programs offer a more functional and practical approach, with a focus on skills such as drafting legal correspondence and assisting clients. Students who complete a paralegal program and decide to pursue law school later are well-prepared for the transition.

When choosing a paralegal program, there are some key factors to consider, such as:

– Is the program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)? Approval by the ABA ensures that the program meets the standards of today’s legal sector.

– What is the job placement rate of the program? This will give you an idea of the program’s effectiveness in helping students secure employment after graduation.

– Is the program offered online? Online offerings can allow you to complete the program while continuing with your existing employment and life commitments.

– Is there a clear pathway between associate degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs, in case you decide to continue your education? This is an important consideration if you plan to pursue further education.